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H5N1 Bird Flu Sequences In Maryland
Recombinomics Commentary

September 1, 2006

The fecal samples were collected on August 2 from resident wild ducks in Queen Anne's County, Maryland, as part of a research project conducted by Ohio State University.

On August 31, 2006, NVSL tests indicated that nine samples were positive for the H5N1 avian influenza subtype. Today, genetic analysis of the virus was completed, which suggests that this virus is similar to low pathogenic strains that have been found previously in North America.

The above comments indicate nine H5N1 positives have been detected as part of a surveillance program by Ohio State University (OSU), and initial sequence data indicate the isolates are low path H5N1.  Full sequences on these isolates would be useful.  H5 was detected from swabs collected over a year ago in Canada, but only one sequence from one H5N2 bird in British Columbia has been made public.

OSU is participating in the NIAID Influenza Genome Sequencing Project, which generates full sequences of all eight influenza gene segments.  Results from the project have already entered the public domain, including OSU submissions from Alaska, A/pintail/Alaska/20/2005(H12N5) and A/pintail/Alaska/53/2005(H3N6).   Adding 2006 H5N1 isolates from Maryland would be useful.  Queen Anne’s Country is on the Delmarva peninsula which large numbers of domestic poultry are housed.  The H5N1 in the mallards suggest high path H5N1 will soon be in the area, which can lead to additional recombination, especially between high and low path H5N1.  Creation of a robust database of current H5N1 in North America would help design regional specific vaccines.

H5N1 has been rapidly evolving via recombination, and the WHO has recently announced pandemic vaccine candidates for three sub-Clades of Clade 2 in addition to Clade 1 (see phylogenetic tree)..  H5N1 in North America would evolve away from the existing targets via recombination with local strains, such as the H5N1 in mute swans in Michigan or mallards in Maryland. The high path H5N1 would likely arrive via the East Atlantic flyway which has H5N1 from western Africa. 
Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale delle Venezie, Italy is also a participant in the NIAID sequencing project and has submitted the Qinghai strain of H5N1 from Nigeria, Niger, Ivory Coast, Afghanistan, Iran, Slovenia, Croatia, and Italy for complete sequencing. These sequences should be public in the next few weeks.

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