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H5N1 Wild Bird Flu Fatal Cluster in Hunan China

Recombinomics Commentary

October 26, 2005

He Yin and her 10-year-old brother fell ill about a week ago after eating a sick chicken that had died, the Post said, quoting their father, He Tieguang

The above comments on the death of a 12 year old girl and bird flu symptoms in her 10 year-old brother in Hunan mark a series of firsts.  This is the first case of H5N1 reported in China.  It is the first cluster and the first human case linked to H5N1 wild bird flu, other than Boxun reports linking human cases to H5N1 at Qinghai Lake.  This is also the first case worldwide linked to wild bird flu and the first death.

The sequence of outbreaks suggests that this is H5N1 wild bird flu.  H5N1 had been reported in most provinces in Mongolia over the summer.  The first outbreak linked to those birds was reported by China last week in Inner Mongolia.  That was followed by an OIE report on Monday of an outbreak in AnHui, which was followed by a report on the Hunan outbreak yesterday.

Each of the reports out of China was similar to the reports earlier this year.  The virus was H5 and was HPAI based on the IVPI test which normally takes 10 days.  However, experimental chickens died within 20 hours of infection when tested with the isolate from Qinghai Lake, and the rapid reports from China indicate that the chickens in each subsequent report died within hours of infection.

The sequences from Qinghai Lake had cause for concern because the change included PB2 E627K, a polymorphism which had never been found in a bird H5N1 isolate prior to Qinghai Lake.  It had be associated with virulence in mice and H5N1 from humans that had this polymorphism signaled an almost universal fatal outcome.

The ability of H5N1 to spread in wild birds is cause for concern.  The H5N1 is in long range migratory birds and can be transported over long distances.  The H5N1 can also recombine with indigenous H5N1 in Asia or novel mammalian genomes in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. 

The association of human cases and deaths with H5N1 wild bird flu is an ominous development.


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