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H5N1 reminds us it's still here, despite swine flu pandemic

Recent reports confirm the return of H5N1 bird flu in poultry in Thailand and Vietnam.  And in today's proMED report, a 21-year old Egyptian college student has a case of confirmed H5N1 bird flu.  

The reports of the return of bird flu should not be surprising.  Just because we're in the (so far, mild) grip of the first pandemic of the information age (I coined that term, as everyone knows) does not mean other flu strains cannot also continue infecting animals.

What is interesting is the case of the Egyptian college student.  He reportedly had slaughtered poultry just days before his onset of symptoms, and it is to the Egyptian doctors' credit that they had the presence of mind to test the lad for H5N1 as well as H1N1.

There is no word if a co-infection was present, but this does confirm the concern that Egyptian authorities have expressed ever since they ordered the slaughter of every pig in the nation (overkill, to be sure).  Namely, they were worried about Egypt becoming the mixing vessel for an H1/H5 mutant virus.

This makes the third time and third locale that H5 and H1 have rubbed elbows.  In Vietnam and in Indonesia, the two viruses were in extremely close physical proximity to one another.  Now, in the midst of the current (first?) wave of swine flu in Egypt, a young adult acquired bird flu.

I don't have the stats on seasonal flu in Egypt currently, but here in the US, of some 5,400 suspected flu samples submitted to the CDC for testing, only four -- FOUR! -- were seasonal flu.  The remaining positive samples were confirmed H1N1v, influenza B, or the nefarious "untyped" influenza A. 

Is it possible, then, that there are more diagnosed and undiagnosed H5N1 human cases in Egypt currently than there are cases of human seasonal flu?  Interesting speculation.  I leave it to you.

As winter approaches, we know we will get more H5N1 cases in birds and in people.  And we know this H1N1v pandemic has a long way to go.  So settle in for the long haul.

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