Source: STAT

The recent upload of H5N1 bird flu genetic sequence data to a public database by the USDA has drawn criticism for its lack of vital metadata, complicating efforts to track the virus’s evolution. Essential details like the time and location of sample collection were omitted, merely tagged with “USA” and “2024.” This absence of data hinders the scientific community’s ability to monitor how the virus adapts, especially since H5N1 has begun affecting dairy cattle—a new mammalian host—which raises concerns about increased transmission risks to humans.

Despite the critical nature of this outbreak, which has seen confirmed cases in cattle across 36 herds in nine states, the USDA’s approach to data sharing has been questioned. Researchers express frustration over the agency’s apparent withholding of more specific information, which they deem necessary for a comprehensive understanding of the outbreak’s scope and origins. The USDA insists it is expediting the release of sequence data, although comprehensive metadata is only included in consensus sequences shared later in more specialized databases like GISAID.

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