Entries in mutation (1)

FAO warns of spread of Fujian H5N1 mutation

Back in 2008, flublogia announced the origins of a new clade, or substrain, of bird flu.  And I joined right in, proclaiming that the new clade -- nicknamed "Fujian," after the province where it was subtyped -- would eventually cause major problems.  The best blog of mine that I could remember on the topic, from 2008, can be read here.  You might also be entertained by my original blog on the Chinese H2H case involving Fujian H5N1, here.  I know I was; I have forgotten half of this stuff! 

Fujian H5N1 was the cause of the father-to-son (or was it son-to-father) Chinese H2H infection back in 2008.  The arrival of simultaneous Fujian B2B and H2H bird flu was extremely troubling to all of us.

Well, it took awhile (just over three years), but Fujian H5N1 is on the lips of television announcers and copy editors the world over.  The reason?  The FAO (think WHO for animals) released a statement today, proclaiming great worry over this "new" mutant strain of bird flu, and imploring the world to monitor it carefully.

Now the timing of such stories is interesting.  We have been monitoring Fujian for years, as I mentioned earlier.  But with the release of the film "Contagion," we may be seeing where the world's public health authorities see an opportunity to raise awareness just when bird flu is about to become a household word again.

Make no mistake:  I am all about awareness.  Consider my own "pandemic fatigue" following the aftermath of the first wave of the swine flu/H1H1 pandemic of 2009-11.  This story woke me up and caused me to go back and retrace my own experiences writing about Fujian 2.3.x H5N1.  So let's review what has been happening in the months since I last blogged seriously about H5N1. 

As of August 19th of this year, there were more confirmedhuman bird flu cases than in all of 2004, 2008 or 2010.  Keep in mind that this includes an alarming increase in Egyptian human cases and accompanying deaths.  But most distressing is the sudden re-emergence of Cambodia as a bird flu incubator.  While Egypt has had 32 cases and 12 deaths to date, Cambodia has had 8 cases -- all fatal.  Of course, we shrug our shoulders at Indonesia, which continues to befuddle Western experts with its distressing lack of transparency. 

So 2011 already ranks as the fifth-worst year for human H5N1, and we have the beginnings of flu season in which to add to that total.  It would take a huge, but not impossible, acceleration of human cases to move it past 2009's 73 totals.  that is the good news.  But the FAO apparently sees a cause-and-effect relationship between the initial discovery of a new clade, the distribution of that new clade, its ability to overtake the existing clade as the dominant substrain, and then extend its reach back into humanity.  Now it is hard to calculate an accurate Case Fatality Rate (CFR) based on such low numbers, but it is safe to say that of all the documented H5N1 human cases, we are still at a reliable 50% figure, meaning that half of all human bird flu patients either die of the disease or its byproducts.  In Egypt, that figure is currently 37%; in Cambodia and Indonesia, it is much, much higher.

The FAO is signaling that it fully expects bird flu cases in poultry and in humans to accelerate in 2011.  The efforts to vaccinate poultry, while admirable, have failed to eradicate the disease (did we ever really expect this effort to be successful?).  Pockets of H5N1 remained and pockets remain today.  While migratory wildfowl (laden with virus) are the primary culprit, humans and their myriad and almost universally bad ways of moving poultry from area to area are also culpable.    Perhaps even more so, when humans smuggle sick and dying poultry across borders, as happens hourly from the Bird Flu Ho Chi Minh Trail from Vietnam into China.

In my next blog, we will take a look at the Australian situation with Tamiflu-resistant H1N1.