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Japan H5N8 Matches Germany Netherlands England
Recombinomics Commentary
November 23, 2014 11:30

National Institute of Animal Health in Tsukuba, Japan has released (at GISAID) two full sets of H5N8 sequences (A/duck/Chiba/26-372-48/2014 and A/duck/Chiba/26-372-61/2014) from duck feces in Chiba, Japan collected on November 18, 2014 (and the lab is commended for the rapid release of these important sequences).  The coding regions of the 8 gene segments differed from each other by a single nucleotide, and were more closely related to the November sequences from Germany, Netherlands, and England (A/turkey/Germany-MV/R2472/2014, A/Ch/Netherlands/14015526, A/duck/England/36254/14) than the earlier sequences from Korea.

The two duck sequences in Chiba were described in an OIE report, which followed an initial report on detection of H5N8 in Tundra swans in Shamane (see map), which are also likely to be closely related to the above recently published sequences.  The appearance of H5N8 in wild birds in two distinct regions of Japan at the same time as the outbreaks in Europe strongly suggest wild birds have introduced H5N8 into Europe. 

This mechanism is further supported by H5N8 sequences in a wild Teal near Ummanz, Germany.  The wild bird was asymptomatic and shot by hunters.  H5 and N8 sequences are identical to those found in turkeys in Heinrichswalde, Germany where the first H5N8 detection in Europe was reported.

The rapid spread of a novel H5 bird flu in Europe in November, 2014 mimics the spread of the Qinghai strain, clade 2.2, in countries west of China in 2005/2006, including many in Europe (followed by spread to the Middle East and northern Africa).  This spread also followed migration routes of wild birds and were initially detected in wild birds (flowed by detection in poultry and humans).

Like H5N8, highly pathogenic Asian H5N1 had never been previously reported in the countries west of China.  The 2005/2006 outbreak was repeated on a smaller scale in multiple years, including the simultaneous appearance of outbreaks in Europe and Japan due to wild bird migration.

Although conservation groups denied the involvement of wild birds in the outbreaks (citing “dead birds don’t fly” and “wild birds as victims” arguments), including the current H5N8 outbreak, the role of wild birds in the transmission of highly pathogenic H5N1 was clear in the summer of 2005 when the Qinghai strain was reported in Russia, Kazakhstan, and Mongolia, including an asymptomatic crested grebe in Russia (followed by an asymptomatic teal in Egypt in late 2005).

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