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Thursday, June 22, 2006

Monitoring migrant birds for bird flu

Bird researchers are cooperating to monitor migrant birds for H5N1 bird flu across North America. According to the latest Land Migration Monitoring Network of the Americas newsletter:
LaMMNA has just successfully completed its first season of avian influenza monitoring and we thank all those who participated. A total of 33 member organizations from 21 states participated, representing a wide range of operations from small, single-operator stations to large multi-station observatories. They captured 20,000 birds during their spring operations at 40 stations. Of those, they sampled 1,000 birds with cloacal swabs, pulling tail feathers for DNA analysis. The samples are now on their way to UCLA for analysis.

For more info on the search for H5N1 in Alaska, see the latest USA Today story here. Unfortunately, the story overstates the case for wild birds carrying the virus from Tibet to Europe last year.

In all likelihood, the virus was carried to Tibet and across Asia to Eastern Europe by poultry or poultry products. Mute Swans may have contracted the virus from infected poultry in Eastern Europe, then carried it to Western Europe in mid winter. We still have a lot to learn about how this virus spread last year, and FAO speculations about wild birds carrying the virus across Asia are apparently based on a faulty understanding of the migratory pathways of Asian birds. It is curious that the FAO continues to focus on the role of wild birds, while admitting that "human activities such as poultry production and trade are principally responsible for spreading the disease" (see article here).

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