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University of Iowa News Release

Aug. 24, 2006

UI Researchers Receive $1.2 Million To Study Avian Flu Transmission In Asia

University of Iowa College of Public Health researchers with the Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases (CEID) have received a five-year, $1.2 million grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to study avian influenza -- bird flu -- transmission in Asia.

They will partner with researchers from the Naval Medical Research Unit, No.2 in Jakarta, Indonesia; various Asian ministries of health; and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in conducting this study.

Led by Gregory Gray, M.D. (left), UI professor of epidemiology and director of the CEID, the study will monitor 1,300 adults who work closely with poultry for evidence of avian influenza infection. The group will be tracked for three years, along with a control group of 350 individuals who have less frequent poultry exposure.

"Currently, we know very little about H5N1 influenza transmission. We suspect that among the H5N1 infected persons only the most severely ill are being detected today, and a significant number of mild infections are missed," Gray said. "Our long-term goal with this research is to provide accurate avian influenza transmission data so that public health officials can design appropriate pandemic influenza control measures."

The study's objectives are to determine the prevalence of previous H5N1 avian influenza A infection, estimate the annual incidence of H5N1 influenza infection, estimate secondary H5N1 influenza infection rates, determine risk factors for H5N1 influenza infection, and characterize H5N1 influenza isolates associated with human infections.

The study participants will be drawn from areas in Asia where the H5N1 strain of avian influenza has been previously detected.

"This research is possible only because we have such fine research collaborators overseas and an outstanding CEID research team in the UI College of Public Health," Gray added. "Together we can do research that no one else in the world is doing."

The researchers include Patrick Blair, Ph.D., Shannon Putnam, Ph.D., and Thomas Wierzba, Ph.D., all with the Naval Medical Research Unit, No.2 in Jakarta. Blair and Putnam are adjunct faculty members in the UI College of Public Health. They will guide the work of UI graduate students and staff who will join them in Jakarta.

Should a study participant develop infection with avian influenza, field staff will investigate the source and transmission of the virus by collecting information and specimens from the participant's family members, coworkers and animals. Study participants' sera and swab specimens will be closely examined for evidence of avian influenza infection. Influenza virus isolates will be carefully studied with advanced molecular techniques.

Gray noted that the study is among the first of its kind. "Our study is innovative in that no similar prospective study of H5N1 influenza transmission among adults with occupational exposure to poultry living in H5N1 endemic areas in Asia has yet been conducted," he said.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa College of Public Health Office of Communications, 4257 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 52242.

MEDIA CONTACT: Debra Venzke, 319-335-9647,