Taiwan’s poultry industry – which is currently struggling with H5N2/ H5N3 /H5N8 - has been hit repeatedly by avian flu outbreaks over the past decade. In the past here have been allegations of `cover ups’ and delays in reporting of outbreaks by local officials (see AsiaOne news 2012 report Taiwan agency intentionally delays action on H5N2: Recording).
The 2012 incident eventually led to the resignation of the then Director-General of the Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine (BAPHIQ).
As a result suspicions are occasionally voiced in the media of corruption, or dereliction of duty, when it comes to the monitoring Taiwan’s avian flu problems. Freelance journalist journalist Lee Hui-jen – who produced a highly critical documentary on bird flu called A Secret that Can’t be Exposed in 2011 – has been particularly vocal in his concerns.
The past couple of days, there has been a bit of a kerfuffle in the Taiwanese press after the recent publication of a study in the CDC’s EID Journal (which I covered last July in EID Journal: Influenza A(H6N1) In Dogs, Taiwan) which detailed the detection of avian H6N1 in a number of dogs in Taiwan.
The coverage until today has been in Chinese, and the machine translations have been a bit difficult to fathom, but today we have an English language report, and the gist here is the charge that local authorities are far too nonchalant regarding these findings.
So first a link, and an except, after which I’ll return with a bit more.
MONITORING CHANGES:As the H6N1 virus moves from infecting chickens to dogs, some are worried that the government is not doing enough to react to the changes
By Wu Liang-yi and Jake Chung / Staff reporter, with staff writer
A paper submitted by a Taiwanese academic to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s scientific journal in July confirmed that the H6N1 strain of avian influenza is continuing to mutate in Taiwan, with canines now also susceptible to the virus.
In the paper written by National Taiwan University school of veterinary science professor Wang Ching-ho (王金和), he said that he last year learned that canines have contracted the H6N1 strain of avian influenza, adding that after further research he found that roughly 2.1 percent of canines in Taiwan have been infected.
As I pointed out last July, H6N1 has been around for decades in Chinese poultry - it possesses similar internal genes to H5N1 and H9N2 (cite 2002 J Virol Molecular evolution of H6 influenza viruses from poultry in Southeastern China by Webster, Webby, Shortridge et al.) - and it has been speculated that it may have even been involved in the genesis of H5N1 in Hong Kong in 1997.
While viewed as having some pandemic potential in the 1990s, once H5N1 emerged as a serious threat in 2003, H6N1’s threat receded back into the shadows. When Taiwan’s CDC Reported the first Human Infection With Avian H6N1 two years ago, however, interest in H6N1 quickly rose.
- Last May,in the EID Journal: Seropositivity For H6 Influenza Viruses In China, researchers reported a low - but significant - level of antibodies, particularly among live bird handlers, to the avian H6 virus in China.
- And also last May, in Study: Adaptation Of H6N1 From Avian To Human Receptor-Binding, we saw a report citing changes the authors suggest are slowly moving the H6N1 virus towards preferential binding to human receptor cells instead of avian receptor cells
While viewed as as an `up and coming’ threat – and of considerable research interest – it doesn’t currently fall into a `must be reported’ category of avian influenza.
Before the middle of the last decade, there was no uniform requirement to report or track LPAI infections. That changed in 2006 when the OIE made reporting of LPAI H5 & H7 viruses mandatory.
While a big step forward, that still leaves out a number of potentially important avian flu viruses. Perhaps most egregiously, the LPAI H9N2 virus – which while fairly benign in poultry - has contributed its internal genes to nearly every HPAI virus out there.
H6N1 falls into this same limbo, and so it is generally ignored by all but the most hardcore flu researchers.
As a blogger with tremendous interest in flu, I’d love to see more attention paid to these more obscure strains, as the next pandemic threat could certainly come out of left field, and from a zoonotic host no one was watching.
But there are scores of obscure flu subtypes out there – and very few pose any realistic threat to humans.
Still, when an avian virus starts showing the ability to jump to a mammalian species, it is probably high time to take notice. While it’s reporting may not be required by the OIE, one would hope the finding of avian H6N1 in companion animals would evoke more than just a yawn and a shrug from local authorities..