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Tuesday, November 15, 2005

UK bird flu testing SNAFU

According to the BBC, last month's report of a parrot in the UK with H5N1 virus was a mistake. The positive bird flu virus test came from a mixed sample of tissue from a South American blue-headed pionus and a mesia from Taiwan. Apparently the mesia had the virus, not the parrot. More mesias from the same shipment ended up dying of bird flu in quarantine.

We've really got to do a better job of being careful with testing for H5N1 and other avian influenza viruses. Standard protocol right now is to mix samples from several birds--which can help identify if the virus is present, but doesn't give a precise (or in this case accurate) picture of virus in the bird population. If we are to figure out exactly which species has a particular bird flu virus, and how common infection is in a population, we can't be using pooled samples this way.

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