Martin W
Marwaan Macan-Markar

BANGKOK, Aug 25 (IPS) – When new strains of the deadly bird flu virus were recently detected in poultry in Thailand and Laos, wildlife enthusiasts had reason to feel vindicated. The prevailing hot weather was off season for migratory birds, often blamed for spreading avian influenza.

By the time ducks in Cambodia showed signs of being infected, the theory that wild birds carry the H5N1 strain of the virus across international boarders was further discredited. This view had first gained hold in this region in 2004 when the current outbreak of the lethal virus began and rapidly spread across a broad sweep of countries.

”There has never been any conclusive, properly documented evidence that wild birds are carriers of the virus,” Richard Thomas, editor of ‘World Birdwatch,’ said in an e-mail interview.

This summer reprieve for the wild birds is consequently throwing more weight behind the view of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) that the unchecked trade and movement of infected poultry is the main trigger behind the spread of the lethal virus.

”FAO recognises that poultry trade across borders is continuing in South-east Asia and East Asia despite well-known risks to the governments and people in the region,” the U.N. agency adds.

The new H5N1 strains in Thailand and Laos have distinct genetic make up that betray their origin. ”There are three broad clusters of the virus and sub-clusters,” says Gleeson. ”The new virus strain in Nakhon Phanom was different to the strain that has been circulating in Thailand since 2004.”

Gleeson attributes human activity, rather than migratory birds, to the spread of bird flu in Indonesia, which has suffered the highest number of human fatalities due to avian influenza. ”It is pretty clear the virus spread in Indonesia is because of poultry products being moved and not because of wild birds.”

‘Migratory Birds Not Spreading Bird Flu’