Dear Julie: my position re bird flu and wild birds

Had email from Julie Hartung, who is in US, researching migratory bird routes as concerned re potential for h5n1 spread by wild birds to US. She was confused re my position on bird flu.

I replied:

Hi Julie:

Sorry to have confused you; I'd tried to be clear.

My main position is, as I'm sure you've discovered from researching migration routes: evidence is quite contrary to wild birds being major vectors for the h5n1 bird flu variants. (Even though waterbirds, especially, carry several forms of bird flu; makes things a bit confusing till you start looking in some detail.) [Fits nicely, though, with poultry industry carrying it around - albeit info somewhat obscured by secrecy, obfuscation and, perhaps, poultry vaccinations. Good if you could also look into this.]

Just received email from Nial Moores of Birds Korea, with draft position paper. May help you some, so I copy below, inc v few comments I made. [I aim to add link to the improved position paper, once on Birds Korea website]

All the best, Martin

Post edited by: martin, at: 2005/08/16 03:44

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Julie sent follow-up email, with questions; I replied:

[quote]Hi Julie:

Thanks for the reply.

I think I understand now what your position is. I think I did not look further enough into the information on your website!
I was tired and a little bit burnout! I  can understand now that your position  is that H5N1 initially was probably due to poor hygiene practices!  As to where I am at now, is tracking the new outbreaks of H5N1. I am not saying it is not possible that there is a connection due to hygiene. I looked at the information in the lancet document. Don't you think it is possible. That now the H5N1 is in ducks, and that it has infected other species that do migrate? Or are you saying that this flu is just an epidemic in mainly chickens? Are you saying that the import and export is the avenue of the spread?[/quote]

- well, we know h5n1 is in several species that migrate - but those we know it in have been sick or dead. What we don't know is whether we have birds with h5n1 healthy enough to fly significant distances; indeed, we have evidence to the contrary. (The asymptomatic ducks reported in Vietnam were farm birds.)
Yes, re import/export, trade.
Had email from Nati Eltin of Poultry Med, saying I might be right, except for now w Russia/Mongolia, where wild birds for sure (he said). I asked re knowledge of trade in this area; he didn't know. There certainly is trade (I don't know re poultry, but think the outbreaks show there is); without knowledge of this, too, I believe it impossible to say with certainty that wild birds responsible here. Need far more info, inc explanation of why outbreak reports are "backwards" compared to migrations, and at time when a major supposed vector is flightless!

[quote]What is your position on the United States and H5N1? Do you think that this is going to burn itself out in Asia,Europe?
This flu is now in Russia and Mongolia and seems to be spreading west and east! My concern is that this flu is going to be brought into the United States through Alaska. I cannot understand the lack of testing in these birds? I cannot understand the lack of information sharing? My feeling is this has gone way to far! And for way to long!. Regardless of whether it was the lack of clean hygiene practices. Or whether a combination of that and it spreading to other species of aves.Don't you feel it is has recombined over and over and has now acquired the ability to cross many species barriers?[/quote]

- as to virus in wild birds (that we know of). I think it may burn out; but may also evolve, to something less virulent in wild birds, maybe even to something that can't readily infect poultry, let alone humans. (this notion partly from another science writer, Wendy Orent, who plans further articles)
-yes, this has gone way too far. But in POULTRY not in wild birds. Like a peat fire, I suggest - been smouldering away in China since at least 1996, occasionally flaring up giving problems (especially where poultry not vaccinated, I think), yet never put out.
This is unprecedented so far as I know; till now, high path avian flus in poultry dealt with by eradicating poultry flocks. (Hong Kong won praise for doing this in 1997, but clearly didn't happen on mainland [where no problems reported as I recall, but I suspect there was trouble too]. There, vaccination has become the main approach; coupled with secrecy.)
- there is testing, in Alaska. See below, which I was sent by Declan Butler, writer with Nature [not attached here, but maybe on Nature website - I may check, add link if I find it]. Plus testing in Asia - here in HK, where get migrants from Siberia (and, I think, some individuals from nesting grounds in Alaska [not checking about this, but some species breeding in Siberia also range to Alaska]), thousands of birds tested - no healthy one w h5n1 yet. [which seems odd given the v few dead wild birds with h5n1 here - to me, helps show it's not real easy for wild birds to spread this virus amongst each other. Maybe need special circumstances, like goose colony.]
 
[quote]There was some pretty convincing evidence that in 2004 that H5N1 had been transmitted human to human. I guess I am asking you what your opinion is of the current situation globally? Because I feel like we are sitting on a time bomb![/quote]
 
-Yes, but don't worry about wild birds here. Look at human movements.
If efficient human to human transmission becomes possible, I believe wild birds will become irrelevant as vectors. (Look at SARS spread, say - not so easily transmitted, yet popped up here n there pretty fast, before controls. Flus have moved fast before; now, chance for unprecedented speed it seems to me.)
But remember, too, Agonist can be more the Alarmist here - on one thread, several members expecting to be v ill or dead from bird flu by mid-Sept. Well, maybe it will come upon us as fast; but maybe not.
We're still playing a watching "game"; as China continues gambling with its poultry policies [with others - Thailand as I recall - also joining in the gambling with vaccinations], and no one really knows what will happen next.

Hope this is useful,
Martin