I don't believe wild birds are spreading h5n1

post I just made in response to a question on Agonist.org, may be of interest:

In short, yes, I do believe

Wild birds are not spreading bird flu

- not h5n1 variant that we're so concerned about. (But they carry plenty of flus; benign for vast vast majority, till farming gets them and transforms [into frankenflus - yikes!].)

Bit longer: birds were claimed to be vectors during 2003/2004, when there was extensive spread in east and se Asia. But, nowhere did such claims look credible; instead, movements within poultry trade (including illegal, inc fighting cocks) looked way more likely. At Qinghai, I'm sure that birds spread the virus amongst each other at the colonies (eg geese defecating on grass, grazing on it). But whether any that survived will go on to become vectors remains to be seen.

After a time, what will happen to h5n1 in wild birds - will there be some evolution, even recombination, to form that is less harmful to them, and us - even unable to cross species barrier to humans? [they might be fine mixing vessels for flus, with plenty of H's and so on - but these are for great part benign, which is a lot why birders have been little concerned re bird flu till now] I think we should then look south, along the true migration routes from Qinghai; come later autumn and winter, Indian scientists and birders will surely watch for potential vectors, see what happens. (There's already a nice web page with h5n1 info by an Indian birder, indicating interest.) Now, with spread to Russia, I'm not certain birds haven't moved virus over significant distances, but I think here too there is major cause for doubt.

Again, as 2003/04, timings of outbreaks go against migration routes/timings. Instead of figuring there are errors in these, maybe could look for another vector. I think the Chany Lake outbreak just might be from wild birds, but might also be that from poultry farms (run-off entering a shallow wetland, hence to food eaten/water drunk by waterfowl). [Again, timing indicates latter to me.]

For spread between farms, I believe markets etc will be mixing sources. The wild birds dying at lake in Mongolia also a concern; I'm intrigued to hear reports from team inc Wildlife Conservation Society members who were reportedly going to investigate. It's too bad that China is so secretive about bird flu; there, I've seen at least one official claim of wild birds being vectors that apparently had not a shred of evidence. Russia, so far, more open, which is good (how odd to be reading reports from Pravda, on the Internet, in English!). I've just been cc'd an email from WWF Russia, saying,

The Ministry (Agriculture) has no information about bird flu in Kursk region. Additionally, the AI was not confirmed in Kalmykia: the death of domestic birds was caused by other stomach infection.

Maybe of some interest. To me, just reported outbreak in Japan (yet) again is an outbreak fitting trade - which can also involve smuggled birds (as smuggled ducks to Quemoy some time ago, with h5n1).

I've been in touch with/been cc'd emails from various conservation organisations, including Birds Korea, Wetlands International, Wildlife Conservation Society (international and Thailand program), WWF Hong Kong (now WWF Russia), Birdlife International, Birdlife Asia. All have similar views: wild birds can be victims, but not shown to be vectors of h5n1 (even though they - especially waterfowl - are reservoirs of flu viruses, which can become problematic thro evolution in poultry).

Also just in, email trying to check species affected at Qinghai (again, Chinese authorities could be such a help here). Based on names in a macine translated news item [posted here??]; here giving widely known English names in brackets. Some at least already named on this thread; one or two still bit baffling; I'm about to recheck thread in case more names given. Looking at numbers, striking to me just how high the proportion of bar-headed geese is; again, as faecal to oral route simpler I guess. For the gulls, I wonder if at least partly thro scavenging carcasses of dead birds. Cormorants - I don't know, but they certainly defecate a lot when sitting around (after feeding by swimming, diving for fish). spot headed geese 5412 (Bar headed Goose) brown headed gulls 641 cormorants 1151 fishing gulls 1064 (Pallas's Gull) red beaked diving ducks 121 (Red-crested Pochard) red feet ducks 34 (Ruddy Shelduck???) ring neck birds 23 (Common Pheasant???) swallow gulls 12 (Terns) white-headed crane 6 (Hooded Crane - unlikely on range; probably young Black-necked) Phoenix headed bird 11 (Northern Lapwing???) black neck crane 2 (Blac-necked Crane) raincoat feather crane 1 (Demoiselle Crane)

Share this

Recent Promed post included:

[quote]"Movements of birds and avian influenza from Asia into Alaska." Kevin
Winkler et. al.

Asian-origin avian influenza (AI) viruses are spread in part by
migratory birds. In Alaska, diverse avian hosts from Asia and the
Americas overlap in a region of intercontinental avifaunal mixing.
This region is hypothesized to be a zone of Asia-to-America virus
transfer because birds there can mingle in waters contaminated by
wild-bird-origin AI viruses. Our 7 years of AI virus surveillance
among waterfowl and shorebirds in this region (1998-2004; 8254
samples) showed remarkably low infection rates (0.06 percent) [There
were only 5 positive samples, and none were H5. - Mod.MHJ]. Our
findings suggest an Arctic effect on viral ecology caused perhaps by
low ecosystem productivity and low host densities relative to
available water. Combined with a synthesis of avian diversity and
abundance, intercontinental host movements, and genetic analyses, our
results suggest that the risk and probably the frequency of
intercontinental virus transfer in this region are relatively low.[/quote]
full article at:

Review appearing in ornithological journal Ibis, now online. Includes:

[quote]The phenology and geographical pattern of expansion of the HPAI H5N1 does not correspond to the pattern of bird migration. First, it took several months for the virus to spread from China to the Balkans. Migratory birds such as ducks and waders travel several hundred kilometres in a single day. If migrating birds mainly dispersed the virus, the virus should also spread by large jumps of thousands of kilometres, throughout the migratory stopping places of Asia and Africa. The observed expansion has rather been by a progressive expansion from isolated outbreaks, the geographical pattern of which corresponds well with major routes and patterns of human commerce.

Secondly, from July 2005 onwards, if migratory birds were a main agent of dispersal, one would have expected massive mortalities of wild birds, both in the breeding areas and along all migratory routes, as bird populations would have been encountering this virus for the first time. However, only sporadic cases were observed. The cases in Western Europe after the cold spell on the Black Sea showed that the virus can spread through infected wild birds travelling short distances (Feare 2007), but no evidence for long-distance transmission during seasonal migration has yet been found (Feare 2007). Analysing 52 introduction events into countries, Kilpatrick et al. (2006) concluded that both poultry and the trade in wild birds represent a larger risk than migratory birds for the introduction of HPAI H5N1 to the Americas. In summary, although it remains possible that a migratory bird can spread the virus HPAI H5N1 and contaminate poultry, the evidence overwhelmingly supports the hypothesis that human movements of domestic poultry have been the main agent of global dispersal of the virus to date.

The occurrence of an outbreak at a commercial turkey farm in Suffolk, England, in February 2007 fits this wider pattern. [b]In spite of the absence of evidence that migratory birds play a major role in the dispersal of the virus, many statements to this effect were made by international institutions, non-governmental organizations and media[/b], and a debate between epidemiologists and ecologists followed (e.g. Normile 2005, 2006a, 2006b, Fergus et al. 2006). However, from autumn 2005 it was largely presented as fact that migratory birds were the main potential agent of global dispersal (e.g. Derenne & Bricaire 2005, FAO 2005), even as evidence emerged in Asia that spread was mainly mediated by human activities (Melville & Shortridge 2004). OIE reports (e.g. OIE 2005, 2006a, 2006c) indicated that the source of outbreaks was contact with migratory birds, but offered no evidence to support this assertion and contributed to the inappropriate emphasis on migratory birds, thus reducing the probability that alternative mechanisms such as poultry movements were fully considered in individual cases. In spite of the declarations of the Nigerian Minister of Agriculture on the probability of the introduction of the virus via the poultry trade (Euro Surveillance 2006), the FAO continued to implicate migratory birds, thus denying problems associated with commercial exchanges. The natural globalization of the exchanges of migratory birds seemed to hide the globalization – without strict health control – of the exchanges of poultry as the accepted mechanism for disease spread. [b]By May 2006, an international conference in Rome had recognized that the virus was mainly spread through the poultry trade, both legal and illegal, but OIE and FAO media releases (FAO 2006b, OIE 2006b) continued to focus on the possible contribution of spread by wild birds[/b].

Given that a key part of the remit of the FAO is to develop international agricultural trade, reticence to accept that this trade is the main agent of global dispersal of HPAI H5N1 is perhaps unsurprising.[/quote]
Recent expansion of highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1: a critical review[/url] also in Ibis, a Viewpoint article by Professor Chris Feare, includes:
[quote]The most recent outbreak in western Europe, at a turkey farm in Suffolk, UK, is alluded to by Gauthier-Clerc et al. but evidence that has become available since their review was written illustrates many of the problems of H5N1 reporting. The outbreak was first blamed on wild birds, which veterinary investigators reported at the site and this received high press prominence. ...

The 10 February 2007 issue of New Scientist magazine included a map of Suffolk showing the outbreak location and highlighting the proximity of the RSPB's Minsmere ‘wildfowl’ reserve. ...

The preliminary Defra report on the outbreak commented on site biosecurity including workers changing footwear on entering the turkey sheds. Biosecurity in parts of southeast Asia involves removing all clothing, walking through a hot shower, and then putting on a complete set of clean clothing inside the premises.[/quote]

New paper out from China, mentions:

[quote]EWHC [H5N1 type] was isolated from a Eurasian widgeon in a large lake [in central China] where many widgeons were found dead.[/quote]

- maybe first report re these dead "widgeons" (maybe other species too, I'd guess). At time when wild birds being readily blamed for spreading H5N1. Yet here's further evidence that wild birds not asymptomatic carriers, for as we all know, Dead Ducks Don't Fly.

[url=http://www.cdc.gov/eid/content/13/5/772.htm]Avian Influenza (H5N1) Virus in Waterfowl and Chickens, Central China[/url]

Back in February 2004, I received email from poultry flu expert Carol Cardona, inc
[quote]The reason I speculated that humans moving birds should
not be eliminated as suspects in the spread of this disease is that in my
experience sick and dead ducks don't fly far. But, people can very easily
move sick birds over many miles. The movements may be legal or illegal but
in an outbreak of disease, they usually happen. I don't think migratory
birds can be eliminated as major spreaders but you can never underestimate
the ability of humans to move disease.[/quote]

I've since simplified this to argue "Dead Ducks Don't Fly" - but also added far more, looked at much info.

Yet, many wild pronouncements re migratory birds carrying H5N1 around, and/or set to transport it to all corners of the globe (ever see any of the crassest idiocy from Henry Niman? - Aaarghh!!0

Paper just on CDC site looks at the issue, conclusion much as in Cardona's email.


[quote]The claim that migratory birds are responsible for the long-distance spread of highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses of subtype H5N1 rests on the assumption that infected wild birds can remain asymptomatic and migrate long distances unhampered. We critically assess this claim from the perspective of ecologic immunology, a research field that analyzes immune function in an ecologic, physiologic, and evolutionary context. Long-distance migration is one of the most demanding activities in the animal world. We show that several studies demonstrate that such prolonged, intense exercise leads to immunosuppression and that migratory performance is negatively affected by infections. These findings make it unlikely that wild birds can spread the virus along established long-distance migration pathways. However, infected, symptomatic wild birds may act as vectors over shorter distances, as appears to have occurred in Europe in early 2006.[/quote]
final sentence:
[quote]Migratory birds are already affected by habitat destruction and climate change; alarmist statements blaming migrants for the spread of an emerging disease with pandemic potential and ignoring or underplaying the role of the poultry industry do not do justice to the complexity of the issues involved [/quote]
[url=http://www.cdc.gov/eid/content/13/8/1139.htm]Ecologic Immunology of Avian Influenza (H5N1) in Migratory Birds[/url]

further comment I sent to aiwatch (group re bird flu and wild birds):

o why then the widespread blame of wild birds, inc by many people who
should know better - of course the FAO's Domenech (how much have FAO to
hide, hope is not widely seen?); and even some purported
"conservationists"? [money helping latter avoid telling it like it is?]

How many birds killed, scared; how many people unnecessarily scared of
wild birds during this modern-day witchhunt?
How many small holders had livelihoods seriously disrupted, as wild
birds supposedly about to bring in bird flu; while Big Chicken
companies like Bernard Matthews have been merrily transporting
eggs/chicks/poultry back and forth, and misplacing paperwork or

Anyone standing up to express shame over their roles in all this?
Not that I can see, tho some are quieter nowadays.

Anyone seen, yet, the FAO report on S Korea situation: was this shoved
away from limelight once it appeared wild birds weren't the vectors
there? [curious Nial Moores told to remove his account from website:
was it factually wrong, or just telling the "wrong" story?, not
convenient for fans of Big Chicken.]

How many places are still feeding chicken manure and carcasses to fish?
- anyone done research into whether this isn't such a good idea after
all? Or, too busy being witch-hunters.

Another paper out in continuing hunt for the Tooth Fairy Bird (which can survive and sustain and spread H5N1 poultry flu). Experiments showed that Mallard may be a candidate species; but other ducks, such as Tufted Duck, liable to die when infected, so maybe sentinels. I've just posted to aiwatch group: [quote]I'm not so up to speed re wild ducks etc n h5n1 - after all, seems to me the story is so often the same old same old; here we have more of the search for the Tooth Fairy BIrd, with suggestion it might exist (as a mallard) but not actually found. I recalled work by Webster n co - leading Tooth Fairy Bird chasers! - which involved H5N1 that was virulent to mallard. I've the paper someplace, but easier to google for quick info; and find: "In laboratory experiments in mallard ducks, it rapidly shifted from being potentially fatal to causing only asymptomatic infections. Nevertheless, it remained highly virulent to domestic chickens and, presumably, to people. A resilient wild waterfowl, such as the mallard, could therefore become a permanent biological reservoir for a strain of avian flu with pandemic-causing potential."
I wonder, then, re the strain used in the newer TF Bird experiments: not quite the same as some strains, inc used by Webster. Once again, we have evolution to the rescue. I know virologists - many of them - don't believe in it, instead looking to mutations and mixing, but not evolving; don't really know why this is: too busy peering into microscopes to see wider pictures? Again: a virus getting from poultry farms to wild will evolve to low pathogenicity in wild birds (as Webster's rather simple experiments showed - simple compared to the wild that is). I'd like to again ask: has there been anything like the effort expended in blaming wild birds used to assess the situation re official and unofficial poultry trade? - or is the situation that, with poultry trade and friends having the main money for H5N1 research, the funding tends to go into areas that can point finger of blame away from poultry industry? So far, silence re this.[/quote] You can find the paper re Mallard etc at: http://www.cdc.gov/eid/content/14/4/600.htm

Tooth Fairy Bird visits Switzerland The Swiss federal veterinary department reported an asymptomatic Pochard (Anythya ferina), found on Lake Sempach (near Lucern). The duck shows no signs of infection, the office sayd. Most interesting point: According to the Swiss federal veterinary department, they cought the duck during a regular detection programme, tested it H5N1 hpai positive - and then let it fly. Unbelieveable - but true.

(Sorry, related article only availeable in german language, please use "babelfish", "google translations" or another tool if needed) [.. Vogelgrippe: Nach zwei Jahren wieder ein Fall Das hochansteckende Vogelgrippevirus H5N1 ist in der Schweiz bei einer Tafelente auf dem Sempachersee gefunden worden. Zusätzliche Massnahmen zu den bereits getroffenen sind aber keine vorgesehen. Der im Rahmen des Überwachungsprogramms kontrollierte Wasservogel, eine Tafelente, zeigte aber keinerlei Krankheitssymptome. Es ist das erste Mal in der Schweiz, dass der Vogelgrippe-Erreger bei einem lebenden Vogel gefunden wurde.Die Tafelente sei zwar Trägerin des Virus, die Krankheit sei aber nicht ausgebrochen, sagte der Sprecher des Bundesamt für Veterinärwesen (BVET). Nach der Untersuchung wurde das Tier wieder fliegen gelassen. Bisher wurden in der Schweiz 33 Fälle von Vogelgrippe gezählt – alle bei tot gefundenen Wasservögeln. Die Kadaver stammten alle entweder vom Genfer– oder vom Bodensee und waren zwischen Ende Februar und Ende März 2006 gefunden worden. ..] See also: http://www.int.iol.co.za/index.php?set_id=1&click_id=31&art_id=nw2008032... and the website of the Swiss federal veterinary department

Nearby three hundred millions of healthy birds were worldwide killed 'n culled to prevent the "next great pandemic".. and the swissmen says "No much dangereous virus in all, less risk for humans and poultry.. no need to take action.." Wat's going on? First signs that some officials changing their paradigm? All the best, Werner