UCLA creates method to predict possible pandemic origin locations

Researchers from the University of California Los Angeles have used a new method of analyzing flu surveillance and other data to predict that coastal and central China and Egypt's Nile Delta may become hotspots during the next pandemic influenza outbreak.

UCLA experts fear what could happen if H5N1 highly pathogenic avian influenza were to become transmissible in humans. The new analysis techniques allowed them to asses local conditions in a number of places in order to predict the possible chances of genetic reassortment occurring, according to the Los Angeles Times.

"Using surveillance of influenza cases in humans and birds, we've come up with a technique to predict sites where these viruses could mix and generate a future pandemic," Trevon Fuller of UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability's Center for Tropical Research said. Fuller is lead author of the study.

New models showed that coastal and central China and the Nile Delta in Egypt are the most likely locations for avian influenza to potentially combine with human flu to create a pandemic strain. With this information, public health officials will hopefully be able to prioritize these areas to increase disease surveillance among humans, livestock, poultry and wild birds.

"The mixing of genetic material between the seasonal human flu virus and bird flu can create novel virus strains that are more lethal than either of the original viruses," senior author Thomas Smith said. Smith is the director of the Center for Tropical Research and a professor with the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability.

"These findings predicting potential outbreak sites can help decision-makers prioritize the most important areas where people, poultry and livestock should be vaccinated and animals should be monitored for novel viruses," Smith said, the Los Angeles Times reports.