The October 21 issue of Science has a good news article highlighting continued debate about the role of wild birds in carrying and transmitting H5N1 avian influenza virus. The article refers to a proposal by Erasmus University of Rotterdam virologist Albert Osterhaus to create networks in Europe and elsewhere to test wild birds for the virus.
A related story in the same issue (subscription required) describes the work of virologists monitoring birds in the Netherlands, including Vincent Munster at the Erasmus Medical Center and Ron Fouchier. The story reports that the researchers have "applied for European Union funds to expand the network across Europe."
These researchers published an outline of this approach earlier this year in the journal Nature. They argue that,
"To obtain a better global picture of the threat posed by avian flu, it is imperative to investigate the virus in wild bird populations. Wild birds, particularly migratory ducks, geese and shorebirds, are the natural reservoir of influenza A viruses, which can infect other avian and mammalian species7. But information about flu in wild birds is still limited. A widespread and integrated approach is needed to understand the dynamics, epidemiology and pathogenesis of these virus infections in wild birds, and the potential routes of virus transmission."
They propose that
"the immediate duties of our proposed task force are fourfold. First, to gain insight into the global picture of flu, taking into account temporal and geographical variation of the virus, in the different species involved (wild birds, poultry, humans, other domestic animals such as pigs, horses and cats, and other wild animals such as seals, cetaceans and tigers). Second, to prioritize research and integrate knowledge of different disciplines on influenza virus infections. Third, to advance intervention strategies for animal outbreaks and human cases. And fourth, to translate knowledge into policy advice, emphasizing the integration of human and animal health strategies."
The also argue that surveillance and monitoring can help reduce not only the threat of an avian influenza pandemic, but also save millions of dollars, with an estimated cost of $1.5 million/year to establish and run the network, as opposed to the hundreds of millions of dollars spent each year to combat the spread of H5N1 in several Asian countries.
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