Researchers uncover path of avian flu infection in Egypt

Arizona State University Biodesign Institute researcher Matthew Scotch released results on Friday from a study that followed the spread of an avian flu strain in Egypt.

Scotch used phylogeography to track the virus, and hopes the results will help officials identify outbreaks, coordinate vaccination efforts, reduce mortality and better inform the public.

"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."

By using the viral sequence data and geographical information over time, researchers were able to understand how the virus spread through animal and human populations in the country.

Phylogeography has been used to study the spread of dengue fever, rabies, influenza and HIV.

Avian flu H5N1 is a strain of influenza A, and was first identified in 1997 in Hong Kong. The virus was first transmitted from bird to bird through nasal secretions, saliva, feces and blood. Animals and humans contracted the virus through contact with avian bodily fluids or contaminated surfaces.

H5N1 is not currently transmissible to humans from birds and has a low rate of infection from human-to-human.

The study's identified routes of transmission are in the densely populated Delta region. The study also noted significant diversity over a limited time, which may be in response to a country-wide poultry vaccination program.

"This has significant public health implications for the rest of the world," Scotch said. "It is important to focus on variant clades in order to better understand how this virus has evolved and which governorates are propagating its spread."