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Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Wild Bird Surveillance for Bird Flu

If you need some heavy reading, check out An Early Detection System for Highly Pathogenic H5N1 Avian Influenza in Wild Migratory Birds U.S. Interagency Strategic Plan. Here's an overview:
The goal of this plan is to describe the essential components of a unified national system for the early detection of HPAI, specifically highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza, in migratory birds. While the immediate concern is a potential introduction of highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza into the U.S., the development of a system that is capable of detecting the introduction of all HPAI viruses through migratory birds would significantly improve the biosecurity of the Nation. This document provides guidance to Federal, State, university, and non-governmental organizations for conducting HPAI monitoring and surveillance of migratory birds in the U.S. It is expected that this document will be used by agencies and organizations to develop regional and/or state-specific implementation plans for HPAI surveillance.

The plan is the source for recent list of birds considered to be the most likely carriers of H5N1. Some of the top candidates, according to this plan are: Steller's Eider, Northern Pintail, Dunlin (despite no evidence for Dunlin ever having carried the virus), Arctic Warbler (another species that admittedly winters in Asia, but never shown to carry the virus). This is a strange list, and seems to be based more on the geographic range of each species (Alaskan birds spending some time in Asia), rather than any epidemiological study showing liklihood of these species actually contracting and carrying the virus.

We still don't really know very much about how H5N1 or other avian influenza viruses are transmitted and which species are carrying which strains of bird flu. Its possible that this plan to test all these species this summer and fall will help us better understand how this all works, though if these species really aren't main carriers of H5N1, then it may take a long time to actually find evidence of that virus in Alaskan birds. I'm all in favor of more research to determine where the various bird flu strains are in wild bird populations--but it should be seen more as a long term research and biosecurity program, rather than just a one-time search for H5N1, which despite media reports to the contrary, probably has only a small chance of arriving in Alaska via wild birds anyway.

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