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Saturday, April 13, 2013

Flu Hot Spot Picks: Egypt and China

It turns out that if you wanted to put money on where the next flu hot spots would be, a team of researchers at UCLA would pick Egypt and China, according to a story in the LA Times.
UCLA postdoctoral researcher Trevon Fuller and colleagues published their work online on March 13 in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention journal Emerging Infectious Diseases. The thinking behind their research goes something like this:
Dangerous influenza outbreaks, including pandemics in 1957 and 1968 that killed around a million people apiece, arise when new, aggressive flu strains arise through a process known as reassortment. A single animal is infected with several flu viruses at the same time -- which then swap genetic bits to create new and sometimes deadly strains. 
The UCLA-based research team, which also included scientists from Belgium, China and Egypt, looked at reports of cases of H3N2 in people and H5N1 in birds to see where both were high in a particular area. They also looked at how many pigs were present (because they can host co-infections of both flus) in some regions of interest and at other factors such as human, duck and chicken population density.
The flu surveillance wasn't always robust, but in the end, they found coastal and central China and the Nile Delta -- as well as major cities in India, Japan and Korea -- all could have the right mix of flu strains and other conditions to permit the H3N2 and H5N1 viruses to exchange genetic material and spawn a dangerous influenza.
This is obviously a very clever and useful bit of detectiion/surveillance because knowing that it could happen is the first step towards trying to ensure that it does NOT happen. Let's hope that is the bet to make.

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