Specious Report of Bird and Swine Flu Coinfection

An Egyptian news story that is starting to receive worldwide attention about a nightmare swine flu/bird flu coinfection is inaccurate, according to officials at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

On 30 August, the well regarded Egyptian newspaper Almasry reported that an Egyptian man who returned from a religious pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia had tested positive for both the highly lethal bird flu virus, H5N1, and the novel H1N1 strain that’s behind the swine flu pandemic. This is the first such report of a coinfection with the two viruses, which many researchers fear because the mix could create a new virus that has the virulence of bird flu, which does not move easily between humans, and the highly transmissible swine flu.

The Egyptian report was picked up yesterday by the widely read electronic surveillance system ProMED. Although the ProMED moderators raised many questions about the story, it remained unclear whether it was accurate. According to Nancy Cox, head of the CDC’s influenza division, there’s no evidence that this man is infected with both viruses. “Our reliable sources indicate that this report is incorrect,” Cox told ScienceInsider in an e-mail. Apparently, tests have shown that the man is coinfected with the pandemic H1N1 and the seasonal H3N2 virus. “There will be follow-up testing to confirm,” according to Cox. As many as 5% of people who develop flu symptoms are infected with two different influenza viruses.