Via The Cambodia Daily, a long, informative article: New Mutation in Bird Flu Virus in Cambodia. Excerpt:
Last year’s jump in avian influenza cases among Cambodians could be due to a mutation of the virus in Cambodia and southern Vietnam, experts said Tuesday at a meeting in Phnom Penh. They said it would be the first mutation here of the virus since it was first detected in the region a decade ago.
The new virus apparently mutated from two existing viruses. It was discovered around the time Cambodia reported its first human infections of 2013. Since January 2013, 35 Cambodians are known to have contracted the virus, a number that exceeded reports of any other country worldwide for that period.
“[W]hile the rest of Southeast Asia has had constant changes of the virus, it’s been very stable here—until the introduction of this new [virus subtype],” Dr. Dennis Carroll, the Washington-based director of USAID’s avian influenza unit, said at the meeting between international experts on bird flu and regional animal and human health officials from Vietnam and Cambodia.
“We got a novel first mutation that started around the same time in 2013 as we saw an increase of cases,” he said.
Previously, Cambodia typically saw about four or five cases per year. Last year, a total of 26 people, mostly children, were confirmed to have contracted the virus. Twelve died.
“So this is a significant increase, and we are not quite sure why this happened,” Dr. Carroll said.
Although the H5N1 virus primarily attacks poultry such as chickens and ducks, it can spread to humans who have close contact with dead or sick poultry. Health experts said that a virus mutation could allow it to heavily affect humans and enable it to spread much like a seasonal influenza.
The new variant that emerged in 2013, Dr. Carroll said, still mainly affected chickens. But it was also the dominant cause of last year’s infections in humans.
“[H5N1] has not—for all the mutations it’s gone through—it has never acquired the ability to efficiently affect people,” he said.
During the meeting, experts tried to determine why Cambodia saw a total of 26 cases in humans last year, while southern Vietnam only reported two.
“[The] elevated number of cases in Cambodia and the not corresponding cases in Vietnam raises some questions,” Dr. Carroll said.
The new mutation, greater prevalence of the virus, better reporting or a lack of preventive measures in Cambodia could be possible reasons.
“We have not a clue,” Dr. Carroll said. “We could fill a book with the number of questions that have come up in the last 16 months in this region.”