Combining Spatial-Temporal and Phylogenetic Analysis Approaches for Improved Understanding on Global H5N1 Transmission

Background

Since late 2003, the highly pathogenic influenza A H5N1 had initiated several outbreak waves that swept across the Eurasia and Africa continents. Getting prepared for reassortment or mutation of H5N1 viruses has become a global priority. Although the spreading mechanism of H5N1 has been studied from different perspectives, its main transmission agents and spread route problems remain unsolved.

Methodology/Principal Findings

Based on a compilation of the time and location of global H5N1 outbreaks from November 2003 to December 2006, we report an interdisciplinary effort that combines the geospatial informatics approach with a bioinformatics approach to form an improved understanding on the transmission mechanisms of H5N1 virus. Through a spherical coordinate based analysis, which is not conventionally done in geographical analyses, we reveal obvious spatial and temporal clusters of global H5N1 cases on different scales, which we consider to be associated with two different transmission modes of H5N1 viruses. Then through an interdisciplinary study of both geographic and phylogenetic analysis, we obtain a H5N1 spreading route map. Our results provide insight on competing hypotheses as to which avian hosts are responsible for the spread of H5N1.

Conclusions/Significance

We found that although South China and Southeast Asia may be the virus pool of avian flu, East Siberia may be the source of the H5N1 epidemic. The concentration of migratory birds from different places increases the possibility of gene mutation. Special attention should be paid to East Siberia, Middle Siberia and South China for improved surveillance of H5N1 viruses and monitoring of migratory birds.