'Supermap' of avian flu yields new info on source/spread

rus is not highly communicable to humans or between humans. But that could change quickly. Scientists say emerging, unpredictable mutations could equip the virus with just what it needs to jump more nimbly between species, and experts say a pandemic would be disastrous. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 15 to 35 percent of the human population in the United States could become infected at a cost ranging from $71 billion to $166 billion.

According to the World Health Organization, which is charged with tracing H5N1 data, there have been 291 cases of the disease in humans since the initial outbreak, and 172 deaths.

Janies says the supermap is universally applicable in tracking the spread of infectious agents, adding that his group is already working on mapping other diseases, such as SARS. He notes that despite recent efforts to stimulate collaboration and publication of all data regarding the H5N1 virus, a significant amount of genomic information remains in private hands. That, alone, means the current map is incomplete, at best. He also notes that while there is good data in a number of public databases, those genetic sequences are not well-annotated with information about host species whether they are wild or domestic, for example.

Still, the supermap may offer investigators a novel way to share information about new outbreaks and predict where public health officials need to act quickly to begin countermeasures. "There was an interesting case in 2004, where some infected eagles were illegally smuggled from Thailand to Belgium," says Janies. "While the birds were quickly confined and the virus didn't spread at that point, those cases did show up as a clear anomaly in our map, reflecting an instance where illegal trade allowed the virus to make a huge geographic leap."


Contact: Michelle Gailiun
Ohio State University

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