Most of the regular readers have no doubt checked out Henry Niman's blog Recombinomics at some point or another. Nicholas Zamiska now gives you an in depth look at the person behind the blog in his latest WSJ article.
Bird flu killed a 3-year-old girl in Cambodia. The virus may also have infected a 29-year-old woman who died in Shanghai, China's second most-populous city.
Samples from the girl tested positive for the H5N1 avian influenza strain at the Pasteur Institute in Phnom Penh, the Health Ministry and World Health Organization said in a statement today. The WHO asked China's Health Ministry for details on the woman in Shanghai, including any test results and whether she had contact with fowl, said Aphaluck Bhatiasevi, a WHO spokeswoman.
``It's a suspected case and the first found in Shanghai,'' Song Guofan, a spokesman at the city's health bureau, said today.
This week, two research groups are independently reporting results that help explain why the H5N1 avian influenza virus is so lethal to humans but so difficult to spread. Unlike human influenza viruses, the teams report, H5N1 preferentially infects cells in the lower respiratory tract. Residing deep in the airways, the virus is not easily expelled by coughing and sneezing, the usual route of spread. The results "explain a lot of the mysteries" surrounding H5N1, says K. Y. Yuen, a virologist at the University of Hong Kong.
[...] One team, led by Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, tested various tissues of the human respiratory tract for receptors to which the virus can bind. Human flu viruses preferentially bind to what are known as α 2,6 galactose receptors, which populate the human respiratory tract from the nose to the lungs. Avian viruses prefer α 2,3 galactose receptors, which are common in birds but were thought to be nearly absent in humans. Using marker molecules that bind to one receptor or the other, the team found that humans also have α 2,3 galactose receptors, but only in and around the alveoli, structures deep in the lungs where oxygen is passed to the blood. They describe their findings in the 23 March issue of Nature.
The second team, led by pathologist Thijs Kuiken of Erasmus University in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, used a more direct technique to show that H5N1 readily binds to alveoli but not to tissues higher up in the respiratory tract. Kuiken, whose team will publish its findings online tomorrow in Science, notes that this pattern is consistent with autopsies that have shown heavy damage to the lungs but little involvement of the upper respiratory tract. Among experimental animals, the team reports, cats and ferrets more closely match the human pattern of infection than do mice and macaques. "This is an important factor to consider when planning experiments" to understand the pathology of H5N1, says Kuiken.
Yuen notes that the findings also explain clinical anomalies such as why nasal swabs of H5N1 patients are less reliable than throat swabs in detecting the virus. And they suggest that clinicians need to exercise particular care when performing procedures, such as intubation, that might give the virus a route out of a patient's lungs.
WHO said seven of 11 patients from Azerbaijan had tested positive for H5N1 in samples checked at a major laboratory in Britain. Five of those cases were fatal.
The sources of infection were still under investigation, but officials suspected a connection to the feathers of dead swans.
"The majority of cases have occurred in females between the ages of 15 and 20 years," WHO said. "In this community, the defeathering of birds is a task usually undertaken by adolescent girls and young women."
So far, there was no indication of direct exposure to dead or diseased poultry in some of the cases. That has been the usual source of exposure for humans who caught bird flu.
The World Health Organization is discussing whether to expand access to its private bird-flu database, as pressure mounts on the United Nations agency to do so as a way to spur wider research on the virus. Meanwhile, in an apparent effort to increase the amount of data available to scientists, the WHO will ask its 192 member states to adopt a resolution in May that includes a pledge to share virus data, Margaret Chan, the WHO's pandemic-flu chief, said yesterday. It isn't yet clear if the resolution will seek to make the data publicly accessible. In a related development, China is set to share a large number of virus samples that it has withheld for more than half a year, a WHO official said.
That is from and article by Nicholas Zamiska, published in today's WSJ. Read more at Effect Measure.
About 240 dead birds were found in the coastal town of Limbe, near the Nigerian border and several hundred kilometers from the northern town of Maroua, where Cameroon's first outbreak was confirmed in a duck, the United Nations Integrated Regional Information Network reported yesterday. Agriculture Minister Aboubakary Sarki is visiting northern provinces to review control measures, the report said.
Twenty new outbreaks in poultry of the H5N1 avian influenza strain were reported to the World Organization for Animal Health in the week ending March 16, boosted by infections on farms in Nigeria and Romania. The disease in poultry raises the risk of human cases and creates opportunities for the virus to mutate into a pandemic form that may kill millions of people.
From Bloomberg. The article is a good summary of the latest outbreaks:
France reported a new H5N1 infection in a wild duck in the Ain region, near the border with Switzerland. France had its first outbreak of the disease in birds last month.
In Romania, several domestic hens in Magurele, 20 kilometers (12 miles) east of the capital Bucharest, tested positive for the H5 subtype of bird flu after health authorities sampled poultry in the area. Authorities are testing to see whether the virus is the H5N1 type that can infect humans.
[...] Israel last week became the 29th country this year to report an initial H5N1 outbreak in either wild birds or fowl.
[...] In Nigeria, Africa's most-populous country, the virus spread to the southwestern state of Lagos, said Abdulsalami Nasidi, head of the Nigerian health task force charged with coordinating efforts to halt the spread of the virus. The affected farm was close to the Ogun state border and the virus hasn't been found near the city of Lagos, where about 11 million people live, since H5N1 was first reported in Nigeria six weeks ago, he said.
A third Egyptian may have been infected with H5N1, Agence France-Press reported, citing Health Minister Hatem al-Gabali.
Pakistan confirmed bird flu in poultry today and Malaysia found new outbreaks in the North of the country.
The four are in quarantine in two hospitals in the northern state of Perak, they said.
"They will be quarantined for a few days. We need to ascertain the cause of their fever," said Health Ministry disease control department director Ramlee Rahmat.
[...] Ramlee said one of the suspected victims was a 43-year-old chicken breeder who lives a kilometre (about half-a-mile) from an outbreak in Changkat Tualang village, and another was his seven-year-old neighbour.
The other two live about 10 kilometres from the Laketown Resort nature reserve where the disease has also been discovered.
Veterinary officials have slaughtered tens of thousands of birds at both sites since the outbreaks were discovered on Thursday.
However, state veterinary officer Wan Mohamad Kamil said his colleagues were finding it difficult to kill all the birds in the affected areas, with some staying in trees and others flying away.
"We have a problem. Some of the birds are high up on the trees and others are migrating to neighbouring villages," he said, adding that 41,979 poultry have been killed so far.