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Common Herring and Black-headed Gulls Die in Oulu Finland

Recombinomics Commentary

August 27, 2005

[ProMED-mail would like to thank Dr. Petri Ruutu for this rapid response to our request for information.

Extensive systemic virological surveillance in feral birds have been  undertaken since the late 70's, revealing the enormous pools of influenza viruses now known to be present in the wild bird population, especially in waterbirds.  The majority of the viruses thus isolated were of low pathogenicity to domestic fowl;  in rare occasions, when highly pathogenic viruses were detected, they were in the vicinity of outbreaks of HPAI in poultry, or geographically and chronologically close to known outbreaks in poultry. In this context, the current Finnish observation, which seems to be indicative (pending final laboratory confirmation) that the isolate is LPAI,  is not unusual. - Mods.AS/MPP]

The above comments at ProMed provide additional evidence  that the 50 seagulls that died at Oulu Finland were infected by H5N1 wild bird flu.  Thus far, the clinical data indicates that one of the dead birds was positive for influenza A.  However, media reports indicate that over 50 gulls have died, representing at least three species, Black-headed Gull (Larus ridibundus), Common Gull (Larus canus), and Herring Gull (Larus argentatus).  Relying on historical avian influenza infections has uniformly produced the incorrect diagnosis in China, Russia, and Mongolia.  In each of these regions, H5N1 wild bird flu had not been detected.

The first outbreak was at Qinghai Lake.  Initially 178 bar-headed geese were found dead at the massive nature reserve.  I the May 21 OIE report the number of dead birds was reported at 519 and the dead included two species of gulls, Brown-headed Gulls (Larus brunnicephalus) and Great Black-headed Gulls (Larus ichthyaetus).  H5N1 was isolated from both species, as well as Bar-headed Geese (Anser indicus).  Initially the dead birds were said to have definitely not died from bird flu.

This outbreak was followed by an outbreak at Chany lake in Novosibursk.  H5N1 from Asia had never been reported in Russia.  The initial deaths were said to be due to H5N2.  However, the sequence of the isolated virus showed that it was H5N1 and closely related to the isolates from Qinghai Lake.

The scenario was repeated in Mongolia.  Even after the H5 serotype was determined, there were reports indicating it was not H5N1 because only a small percentage of the waterfowl had died.  However, included in the waterfowl were gulls and bar headed geese.

Thus, because H5N1 is in migratory birds, the virus is being reported in regions where it has never been reported previously.  This has now been extended to migratory birds in northern Siberia.  Recent outbreaks north of the east west path in southern Siberia and northern Kazakhstan indicate H5N1 is beginning to migrate south from northern Siberia.

Such a migration would likely start causing deaths in northern Europe.  Since the H5N1 can infect many avian species, the virus can distribute via a number of flyways that pass through Europe.  One group is heading south towards the Caspian and Black seas, but birds from northern Siberia would migrate to and through northern Europe (see map).

The number of dead birds in Oulu is on a par with initial reports out of Qinghai Lake, where most of the dead birds were bar headed geese, and the number of gulls was considerably lower.  Oulu has fifty dead birds and more dying and these birds represent three species of gulls.  These data strongly suggest that H5N1 wild bird flu has arrived in Finland.


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