Strain behind fogs. Avian flu flew away, but promised to come back.

Interview with A.D. Zaberezhnyj, Dr.Sci.Biol., Head of R&D Department of NARVAC.

Denis Belyakov, «Rossiyskaya gazeta» (newspaper), 14.10.05

Passions around avian flu have settled. However the forecast of the U.N.O. experts is very disquieting: the epidemic can carry away lives of 150 million people. Whether the dangerous virus threatens Russians? The correspondent of «RG» talks about it to Alexey Zaberezhny .

The Russian newspaper| Alexey Dmitrievich, what conclusions could be made of a recent disturbing situation?

Alexey Zaberezhnyj| It has turned out that the flu belongs to subtype H 5 N 1. It has been detected in birds for a long time. Now it's known that the flu could break an interspecies barrier and infect people. The virus causes up to 50 percent mortality in people, but, fortunately, does not spread between us yet.

RG| Why the virus crossed from wild birds to poultry and then to people right now?

Zaberezhnyj| The matter is that the virus has mutated. According to one of hypotheses, an intermediate part between birds and people is pigs which can be infected with both human and avian viruses. By the way frequency of mutations depends on population density. In Southeast Asia it's high. There, most likely, the critical moment has come.

RG| A careful eye should be kept on the flu virus. Are there enough forces and means for it?

Zaberezhnyj| Russia is a crossroad of birds' migration, therefore our experience is interesting for scientists of the entire world. Our experts visit various regions. Wild birds are being shot down there and viral strains are isolated and investigated.

To study the virus we apply the microarray developed at NARVAC and V.A.Engelgardt Institute of Molecular Biology. This technology allows conducting up to 17 different reactions on one microchip and significantly speeding up all the process of research. Besides several test-systems are created which can distinguish virus subtypes. There is also a high-speed method when results are transferred directly from a test tube to computer. And it is possible not only to find out if a bird is infected by virus or not but also - in what quantity. Knowing this it is possible to predict disease spread. There is one more important point. Perhaps a person, a bird, an animal have been already vaccinated against flu. But it is necessary to understand whether the vaccination works or not. For this purpose ELISA method is created.

RG| Some specialists speak about mass vaccination of birds.

Zaberezhnyj| It could be a good idea in backyard farms. Industrial poultry farms are reliably protected from contacts with migrating birds.

RG| Birds can be locked, but how we should protect ourselves?

Zaberezhnyj| Basically if you don't have direct contact with birds, especially sick, usual hygiene is enough. In fact, birds are infected by water-fecal way. For example a domestic duck drank from a reservoir where a wild duck swam. And the flu is transferred to a human with binds secretion. It means that if you takes a live bird, pluck it in the kitchen, it is possible to swallow or inhale the virus with air. By the way, that is possible way of infection of people in Asia where live birds are sold in markets. In Russia and furthermore in Moscow , we buy finished poultry products.

RG| So, can people eat meat of an infected bird?

Zaberezhnyj| It is possible, if it's not raw. The virus of influenza is inactivated at the minimal thermal processing. The danger of avian flu to a human is in variability of the virus. The virus will come back every summer and we don't know yet how a strain will lead itself change. You, probably, know about epidemic of Spanish influenza in 1918. It has carried away at least 20 million lives. According to one of hypotheses it was caused by the virus which infected people from birds too. It would not be desirable to have something similar again.

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