Saturday, August 27, 2005

Civet surprise(?)

The H5N1 virus has once again revealed something about the extent of its species range. Three Owston's palm civets, cat-like animals being raised in captivity in a Vietnamese national park, are now confirmed to have died in June from bird flu. No obvious source of the infection has been found, although some of the keepers came from provinces where bird flu is endemic. However Reuters reports "tests did not find the H5N1 virus." Exactly what tests were done is not stated.

Civet cats are also suspected of being a reservoir and vector for SARS in southern China, where they are considered a delicacy. Civets are among an expanding list of animals now shown to be capable hosts for H5N1, a list that includes ostriches, sea mammals, large cats (tigers and leopards), ferrets, rodents and of course birds and humans.

It's interesting to note the differing responses of Scott Roberston, technical adviser for the civet conservation program at the park. (AP)
"It's another good example of how dangerous this thing is," Roberton said. "No animals are ill, no people are ill. We're still trying to figure out where the source was."
Compare this to the WHO response:
Peter Horby, an epidemiologist for the WHO in Hanoi, said the development would not make people more susceptible to bird flu because humans have less contact with civets than poultry.

"The interesting thing is that it's a new species," he said. "It continues to surprise.
I would think that the more speicies this thing reproduces in the more chance of an efficient mammal-adapted virus we would have. So it is not just someone "getting infected" via a palm civet, but what that someone would be infected with. Hey, but what do I know?

The "interesting thing" to me is that this continues to surprise WHO. Because, frankly, this is no surprise. This happened back in June and we are just finding out about it now. I guess that's no surprise either.

What else has already happened that we haven't been told about or they don't know has already happened?