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Making sense of the evolving situation in Egypt

Posted on Wednesday, January 9, 2008 at 01:43PM by Registered CommenterScott McPherson in | Comments1 Comment

2008%20jan%20laidback%20al%20egypt%2010708.jpg(Map from Laidback Al above).

It is extremely difficult to try and nail down what is happening in Egypt right now.  But from all accounts, and from reading a multitude of postings on flu sites, the best description I can come up with is:  Sheer bedlam.

The last time I looked into the ongoing and escalating situation in the upper Nile delta, the number of suspected cases was at 102, with 5 confirmed human H5N1 infections and four deaths (see earlier blog).Now, it is believed that at least 25 people per day are being admitted with bird flu symptoms, and the Egyptian government has begun exterminating tens of thousands of birds, banned the sale of live poultry, and are at least debating the mass slaughter of pigs.  This would seem to underscore a growing concern in Egypt that pigs have become a reservoir of H5N1, or could become the fabled "mixing vessel" that produces the reassortant Pandemic Strain of H5N1.  Or it could be that the Egyptian government is considering the adoption of a South Korean-esque methodology toward H5N1 eradication.  The South Korean protocol is now to kill every single non human living creature within a 1-3 kilometer radius of an H5N1 source infection.  Every dog, cat, horse, goat, bird, pig, you name it, it's dead -- except for homo sapiens.

All this activity would be cause enough for concern, with one important new development:  The evidence of numerous suspected H5N1 family clusters emerging in familiar locations throughout the nation. We also know that seasonal flu is raging across Egypt.  That should scare us almost as much as if all these current suspected H5N1 cases tested positive (they won't all test positive).  That is because every single case of human H5N1 is now, especially, a potential case of reassortment and the instantaneous production of H5N1 that is adapted to humans.

One look at the lastest Google map, maintained by Dr. Henry Niman, underscores that concern. Go ahead and open a new browser window and follow along.  The map can be found by clicking here: http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&hl=en&msa=0&msid=106484775090296685271.000442accf347f22ad5d4&t=h&om=0&ll=30.145127,31.398926&spn=3.932693,6.130371&z=7

While there are still only 5 confirmed cases of human H5N1 infection (color blue), look at how close those cases are to other suspected H5N1 cases.  Now even if those suspected cases test negative for bird flu, their close physical proximity to actual confirmed H5N1 flu cases is unsettling.  And the disclosure that some people who are testing negative for H5N1 are still being held for observation shows that there are some who may not completely trust the accuracy of the tests, and may elect to place caution at the front of the queue.  Good for them!

The fact that pigs are showing up as an area of concern in a multitude of machine-translated missives from the Egyptian government and media should warn us that they are genuinely concerned about the potential for a reassortant H5N1 to emerge from swine.  As we all know, human and avian flus can reassort, or exchange their genes, via pigs.  Pigs acting as the "mixing vessel" is a theory that has been proven as close to cold hard fact as one can get in the year 2008.  The latest St. Jude/Iowa State/U. of Minnesota study should do away with any lingering misgivings about the theory of reassortment.

An interesting post from new Egyptian blogger Zeinobia and her Egyptian Chronicles, located at: http://egyptianchronicles.blogspot.com/2008/01/forget-about-bird-flu-now-it-is-pig-flu.html, also talks about the pig industry in Egypt and how local government decisions to exterminate pigs have been overruled by the farm lobby.  By the way, any independent-thinking Egyptian blogger/ette is a wonderful thing.  Freedom of speech (at least for the moment) over there is good.

This emerging situation in Egypt deserves close scrutiny. 

Reader Comments (1)

Sounds like Egypt would be the perfect country to test the new FDA-approved "xTAG Respiratory Viral Panel (RVP) that can detect and distinguish influenza A subtypes H1 and H3 and also detect influenza B."

Of course, it would then be nice to know the results.

January 9, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterPhytosleuth

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