The state of H5N1 tracking, surveillance and modelling
Four experts have expressed their recommendations on how to improve H5N1 avian influenza monitoring in the field, Nature reports.
Yi Guan, of the Joint influenza Research Centre, Shantou University Medical College and University of Hong Kong, China, underscores the danger that domestic ducks, which are currently under-surveyed, pose for HPAI triggering and spread. Surveillance of duck populations is limited, but Yi Guan and his colleagues have found that, in the 12 year period that they have been surveying poultry, more than 65% of the H5N1 viruses they isolated were from ducks. Yi Guan thinks the fact that H5N1 has remained endemic in parts of southwest Asia is due to the large domestic duck populations found there.
The Arabian Spring
The International Laboratory for Avian Influenza and Newcastle Disease, Veterinary Public Health Institute, in Legarno Italy, has over the past six years developed international laboratory collaborations with many labs and veterinarians in Africa and the Middle East. Collaborations with the latter have been seriously disrupted by the Arabian Spring. Ilaria Capua, director of the International Reference Lab, is concerned that the political upheaval has partially blinded the H5N1 overview in the Middle East. Egypt, where H5N1 was reported in domestic poultry in 2006, has suffered gaps in expertise with people moving and due to the general unrest.
Jonas Waldenström of the School of Natural Sciences, Linnaeus University, Sweden, points to the movement and interaction of wild migrating birds with other birds wild and domestic constituting a major lacuna in models of disease spread. Wild bird movements need to be tracked with greater accuracy, and have to be sampled with better methodologies, for in order to account for wild birds’ role in the spread of H5N1 at local and global scales.
Richard Webby, of the Department of Infectious Diseases, St Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee USA, calls for additional surveying of pig populations. Coordinating H5N1 surveying with H1N1 surveying would be of mutual benefit to both researchers of swine and bird flu, increasing knowledge of how the virus mutates in different circumstances, an important tool in tracking and modelling disease outbreaks.