Salem Bird Trials - hysteria and h5n1

just posted this to newsgroup re h5n1 and birds/conservation

Evidence that would be excluded from modern courtrooms-- hearsay, gossip, stories, unsupported assertions, surmises-- was also generally admitted. Many protections that modern defendants take for granted were lacking in Salem: accused witches had no legal counsel, could not have witnesses testify under oath on their behalf, and had no formal avenues of appeal....

By the time the witchhunt ended, nineteen convicted witches were executed, at least four accused witches had died in prison, and one man, Giles Corey, had been pressed to death. About one to two hundred other persons were arrested and imprisoned on witchcraft charges. Two dogs were executed as suspected accomplices of witches....

The witches disappeared, but witchhunting in America did not. Each generation must learn the lessons of history or risk repeating its mistakes. Salem should warn us to think hard about how to best safeguard and improve our system of justice.

To me, it seems things are getting well out of hand regarding blaming wild birds for H5N1 spread. Including if look at numbers of wild birds known to have been infected - compare this to poultry; and fact the evidence is all circumstantial (yes, strongly circumstantial in a few cases - but those are few set against number of sites receiving wild birds, numbers of migratory birds around: anyone care to produce a map of places where wild birds are unaffected by H5N1?)

OIE report on Russia visit links wild birds to spread; but even here is inconclusive, seems to place trust in info on trade - and rather odd that just because villages several km apart, can't move birds/eggs, even stuff with poultry droppings (boots, cages etc) between them.

Best explanation includes H5N1 behaving as a low pathogenic strain in wild ducks. Now, I know re asymptomatic farm ducks in Vietnam, but there have also been major die-offs in farm ducks - including Vietnam recently, ornamental ducks; also in wild swans, geese, so I wonder if unlikely. The report suggests the ducks migrate north with H5N1, breed, then gather post breeding on lakes from which can infect other birds, including poultry.

But, no explanation as to why H5N1 apparently not present on the ducks' wintering grounds (this by absence in tests; also lack of reported increases in wild bird deaths). Nor why apparent spread by wild birds this autumn is only towards the west; not sure why report doesn't consider situation in Asia, and even consider what happened in 2003/04, when wild birds wrongly blamed for east Asian outbreaks.

Further, Russia mainly finding virus to H5 level in wild birds; Canada just reporting "surprising" amounts of H5 in wild birds, but reckoned unlikely to be H5N1. H5 previously known in Russian wild birds, too. Is the increased attention revealing more about natural levels of H5, and other bird flus?

Evolutionary biology not in the OIE report. With birds dying of severe strains (and remember, even within "H5N1" there are differences; a US mallard in 1986 had low path form) will get shift towards less pathogenic flu - ie away from the Poultry Flu all the fuss is about.

Interesting that Moscow vet, presumably privy to report, has recently blamed illegal poultry trade for spread in Russia.

Dead waxwings making ProMed?! Good grief; remember recent Indian report - turned out to have been stork nestlings blown from trees in a cyclone.

Taichi Kato: I'd guess Mute Swan perhaps could carry H5N1, then die from this plus exhaustion on arriving in winter grounds. (Exhaustion/fat depletion after migration doesn't account for outbreak timings.) But where did they catch it? What of birds they associate with, on breeding grounds and at stopovers en route to eastern Europe?

And, as Nial Moores has asked from "still bird rich" Korea: why the late autumn outbreaks in wild birds in Europe, but none known in Asia? I was at Mai Po in Hong Kong yesterday; thousands of wild ducks, no apparent problems among wild birds, including birds closely associating with ducks. No">]No Flu Just Birds at Mai Po, Hong Kong

Despite picture being very blurry, with many questions, now get the reports re Russians killing wild birds near poultry farms in one area; threats re wetland drainage in Lebanon [and Jordan]; barmy Hong Kong legislator (in some jest, but made Pravda) calling for Hongkongers to be given guns to shoot migrants; notion Sweden should be ringed by shooters to blow away incoming birds (I was told by Swedish birders yesterday); UAE ridding shores of migratory birds.

The Salem Witch Trials "continue to serve as a reminder of how politics, family squabbles, religion, economics and the imaginations and fears of people can yield tragic consequences." Shouldn't we be beyond such things?


Post edited by: martin, at: 2005/11/02 12:04

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email I've just circulated, re report I've belatedly seen from FAO:

Only just seen FAO special issue on wild birds and h5n1.

Terrible piece of work; very muddled; yet manages to implicate wild birds in spreading h5n1 (including, in simple diagram, to poultry - any proof this has occurred?)
Written by the same sort of committee that designed the camel? - ie some bunch of people contributing a bit here, a little there.

Says certain species of ducks can be infected by AI without clinical signs (surely true of all birds, with regular wild bird flus). Then says some ducks killed by h5n1.
Says migration routes don't tally with observed spread of h5n1; but also manages to suggest wild birds are responsible anyway. Notes re spread with northward component in July, but nothing re wild birds not migrating at this time - and certainly no overall movement, even of juvenile ducks, in this direction.
Says wild birds made sick/killed by h5n1. And yet, when many birds killed at Qinghai, suggests they can spread h5n1 (so for muddle heads at OIE, dead ducks do fly?) [also says no poultry farms near Qinghai; but not explaining why 20,000 poultry culled in vicinity]

jusdging by this in conclusion, committee clearly included at least one idiot, and idiocy reigned supreme:

[quote]"Wild birds found to have been infected with HPAI [highly pathogenic avian influenza - ie H5N1] were either sick or dead. This could possibly affect the ability of these birds to carry HPAI for long distances."

Post edited by: martin, at: 2005/11/04 02:03

just received latest FAO report on avian flu situation; sent comments to conservationists:

So, is FAO a little less sure of its role in the Salem Bird Trials?

"Wild birds seem to be one of the main AI [h5n1] carriers, but more research is urgently needed to fully understand their role in spreading the virus."
- "seem to be"???
you mean, seem to be because of woefully sloppy thinking, and perhaps an exceptional case or two [Mongolia, maybe Romania]

There is plenty of data, plenty of info - several/all those on this email list well aware of it.
Instead of "more research", simple application of a little brainpower would help show this is a Poultry Flu: it evolved in poultry, it spreads efficiently among and kills poultry. And even wild birds become victims, but not efficient vectors.
[conveniently, report omits ringing dates for swan in Hungary; powerful evidence it caught H5N1 in Croatia. In 1 Sept report, FAO applying Idiot's Guide to Logic, by noting wild birds found to have h5n1 all sick or dying, so maybe they wouldn't be able to carry it over long distance. Err, maybe? Whole report seemed aimed at showing wild birds responsible, and never mind the facts. Domenech's view, it seems from press reports.]

Why no mention of vaccines, without which we might have eradicated h5n1?

How about some equivalent updates from conservation side (IUCN?), without blatant bias against wild birds (and without being pro agriculture, the very cradle of h5n1 and all high path bird flus causing outbreaks in past four decades).

ne China now blaming magpies as "migratory birds", for goodness sake.
The Salem Bird Trials continue.