Since its first identification in Asia, highly pathogenic avian influenzaH5N1has caused significant alarm in the scientific community. While the virus' primary target is birdstens of millions have already died from itit is capable of infecting mammals, including humans, causing serious illness and a frightening rate of mortality.
In a new study, Matthew Scotch, a researcher at Arizona State University's Biodesign Institute, tracks the spread of an H5N1 variant in Egypta country recently identified as a major epicenter for the virus. In results recently appearing in the journal BMC Genomics, Scotch tracks the spread of H5N1 cases using a technique known as phylogeography.
The authors hope that studies of this kind will significantly enhance efforts by public health officials to identify viral outbreaks, limit their spread, coordinate vaccination efforts, reduce mortality and better inform the public of risks.
"Egypt represents an epicenter for H5N1 and there are new variants that have emerged since it was first discovered there in 2006, "Scotch says. "We used phylogeography and influenza genome sequences to model diffusion and evolution of the virus."
Phylogeography was born out of the fields of biogeography and phylogenetics or molecular evolution. By combining viral sequence data and geographical information over time, as well as evaluating features associated with viral carriers, researchers can better understand how viruses spread across a landscape through animal and human populations.
Phylogeography has already been established as a powerful technique for investigating viral dispersal for human diseases, including dengue fever, rabies, influenza and HIV. Recent application of phylogeographic methods to the study of avian influenza promises to significantly improve fine-grained mapping of viral origin and spread.
Avian flu H5N1 is a form of influenza Aan RNA virus first identified in Hong
|Contact: Joseph Caspermeyer|
Arizona State University