Alaskan, Australian Natives May Be Vulnerable To Bird Flu

Indigenous populations in Alaska and Australia may be vulnerable to influenza, particularly a recent form of bird flu.

Since the first break-out of H7N9 in China early last year, 150 people have been infected and 45 people have been killed. Two people died earlier this month. It’s called bird flu since people have obtained the virus from domesticated poultry.

Although there does not currently appear to be a sustainable person-to-person transmission of H7N9, scientists and health officials worry that will eventually happen with further mutations of the virus. That potential person-to-person transmission is what worries researchers like Katherine Kedzierska, Associate Professor of Microbiology and Immunology and laboratory group head at the University of Melbourne in Australia. She was also senior author of the study that was published last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that examined possible pre-existing cellular immunity among various human ethnic groups.

Kedzierska said indigenous populations in Alaska and Australia have been relatively isolated and have not had the exposure to various influenza viruses that were identified as circulating in Greece as early as two millennia ago.

She said their latest research provides some clues as to why mortality rates were so high among Alaska Natives during the 1918 influenza outbreak.

Link to published paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: Preexisting CD8+ T-cell immunity to the H7N9 influenza A virus varies across ethnicities

Link to page of frequently asked questions about H7N9 influenza from the Centers for Disease Control: H7N9 FAQ