Study of Hajj group found flu cases, but no MERS-CoV
Most of a group of French pilgrims who traveled to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj last fall had respiratory symptoms during their journey, and some had influenza, but none tested positive for the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), according to a report in Emerging Infectious Diseases.
The 2013 Hajj drew more than a million foreign visitors to Saudi Arabia, the country hit hardest by MERS-CoV, which raised worries about possible spread of the virus.
The study involved a group of 129 pilgrims from the Marseilles area who traveled together from Oct 3 through 24, accompanied by a physician. Nasal swabs were taken the day before they left Saudi Arabia and were tested for MERS-CoV and influenza, says the report by French and Saudi researchers.
Of the 129 travelers, 117 (90.7%) had respiratory symptoms, mostly cough, sore throat, and fever, during the journey. None of them tested positive for MERS-CoV, but 10 had flu viruses, including 8 H3N2 infections, 1 H1N1, and 1 influenza B.
The authors say their findings are consistent with data from a similar study in 2012 that found no MERS-CoV in a group of Hajj pilgrims from France, but only two flu cases were detected in the earlier study.
The detection of flu in the travelers "may represent a potential for early introduction of influenza in southern France," the authors say. Therefore they suggest that flu vaccination is important for those attending the Hajj.
Last November Spain reported probable MERS-CoV cases in two women who had traveled from Spain to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj. But in January the World Health Organization said follow-up testing did not confirm those cases. No other Hajj-related cases have been reported.
Feb 7 Emerg Infect Dis report
Related Jan 21 CIDRAP News story
Giant pandas infected during H1N1 pandemic
Three pandas named Ximeng, Zhangka, and Gege that live at a conservation center in Sichuan province got sick with 2009 H1N1 infections when the virus was circulating in humans in China during the pandemic, an event that extends the host range of the virus. A Chinese research team reported the findings in Emerging Infectious Diseases.
The three animals experienced respiratory symptoms, which included pyrexia, anorexia, malaise, conjunctivitis, and sneezing. Researchers put Ximeng under anesthesia and collected a nasal sample. The pandas got better after receiving 75 mg of oseltamivir (Tamiflu) twice a day for 5 or 6 days.
The team obtained serum sample from all three animals about 3 months after they were sick. They also analyzed serum samples that had been collected before the bears were sick.
Ximeng's nasal swab tested positive for the 2009 H1N1 virus, which on gene sequencing was nearly identical to the circulating human strain. Phylogenetic analysis suggested that the virus was transmitted directly to the pandas without recombination or significant adaptation.
Serum studies showed Zhangka may have been previously exposed to 2009 H1N1 or a related virus, as well as the H3 subtype, before getting sick. Gege and Zhangka also had antibodies to an H6 avian influenza after their 2009 H1N1 infections.
Researchers said the findings raise the possibility that giant pandas may be infected with human- and avian-origin viruses, which has implications for panda conservation and shows that the 2009 H1N1 virus can infect a wider range of mammals than other flu viruses.
Feb 7 Emerg Infect Dis study