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Researchers Reconstruct Spread Of Bird Flu From China

Multiple strains of the virus originated in southern Guangdong province of China, and spread out.

H5 bird flu found in Tibet poultry
Beijing (AFP) Mar 06 - Poultry in the Tibetan capital Lhasa have tested positive for bird flu, state media said on Tuesday. The H5 virus was confirmed after birds died at a market on March 1, Xinhua news agency said, quoting China's agriculture ministry. The market has been closed and poultry culled to stop the spread of the virus, which experts believe was introduced by migrating birds. The H5N1 strain potentially deadly to humans was confirmed at a farm near Lhasa in August 2005, prompting a cull of chickens. Xinhua said three wild birds and two poultry birds tested positive for the H5 virus in the south-western province of Fujian this month, where a woman farmer is critically ill with H5N1. The H5N1 strain has killed around 160 people across the world since late 2003 through contact with infected birds.
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Mar 06, 2007
US researchers have reconstructed the evolution of avian flu and its spread over the past decade from its first origins in southern China, according to a new study. The team from Irvine University in California combined genetic and geographic data for the H5N1 virus, identifying many of the migration routes through which the strains spread across Asia and then around the globe.

Knowing how strains of the bird flu virus can develop and migrate will help in fighting the spread of the disease, said the study published Monday in the March 6 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

"If you can control the virus at its source, you can control it more efficiently," said Walter Fitch, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the School of Biological Sciences and the co-author of the study.

The team found that multiple strains of the virus originated in southern Guangdong province and then travelled outside the region.

"With a road map of where the strain has migrated, you're more likely to isolate the strain that you should be using to make the vaccine," Fitch added.

The research was the first statistical analysis of the geographic spread of the disease which has killed more than 160 people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

From 192 samples gathered from Europe and Asia, researchers found that Guangdong, the home of a large poultry industry, was the source of many of the H5N1 strains that subsequently spread around China and to other countries.

Strains which developed in Southeast Asia were mainly confined to local areas.

"The ability to develop the right mutation allows the virus to hop from one host type to the next," said Robert Wallace, who was lead author on the study.

"By spreading across a large area, the virus in essence can run multiple experiments in multiple locations, increasing the likelihood that it will mutate into a form that can be transmitted from human to human."

World health officials are concerned that the virus could mutate so it could be passed from human to human, and have warned that should that happen there could be a global pandemic.

An influenza pandemic in 1918, just after the end of World War I, killed some 20 million people worldwide.

According to WHO figures, 275 people have fallen ill with the H5N1 virus since it was first identified in Southeast Asia in 2003 and a total of 167 people have died.

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