Wildlife disease: Bird flu appears in wild migratory geese, Virology: Nipah virus receptor identified

1) An outbreak of the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus has been spotted in wild migratory geese in western China; (2) Researchers identify a crucial receptor that the Nipah virus relies on to infect human cells.

[1] Wildlife disease: Bird flu appears in wild migratory geese (AOP)
DOI: 10.1038/nature03974

An outbreak of the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus has been spotted in wild migratory geese in western China. Transmission of the virus had not previously been seen in wild birds; the discovery raises the possibility that the virus could spread rapidly beyond its current stronghold in southeast Asia.

The epidemic was first detected on 30 April in bar-headed geese (Anser indicus) at Qinghai Lake, a protected nature reserve. By 20 May it had killed some 1,500 birds, report Yi Guan and colleagues in a Brief Communication published online by Nature. Genetic analysis of the virus extracted from dead birds shows that it is closely related to the strain that has caused human illness in Thailand and Vietnam.
Other dead wild birds have previously been spotted with symptoms of bird flu, but these were always near poultry farms, and there was no evidence that the virus was being transmitted within wild populations, the authors say. Now that such transmission is known to be occurring, they add, farmers in Europe and the Indian subcontinent should be more vigilant for signs of the disease, which is almost impossible to stamp out once it becomes established in farm poultry populations.

Yi Guan (The University of Hong Kong, China)
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[2] Virology: Nipah virus receptor identified (AOP)
DOI: 10.1038/nature03838

The newly recognized Nipah virus, which can pass to humans after contact with infected animals, has caused great concern. There is also evidence of human-to-human transmission. The virus causes fatal encephalitis in up to 70% of infected patients. Now a group of researchers led by Benhur Lee have identified a crucial receptor that the virus relies on to infect human cells.

Their paper published online by Nature describes how the attachment protein of the Nipah virus attaches to the ephrinB2 receptor. This receptor is critical for normal vascular developmental processes and high numbers of it are found in the types of tissues targeted by the Nipah virus. The scientists also go one step further and show that certain molecules, such as the enzyme EphB4, can block the entry of the deadly virus.

Benhur Lee (UCLA Sch. of Medicine, Los Angeles, CA, USA)
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Katharine Mansell, Nature London
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Published: 12 Jul 2005

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