FAO – wild birds not spreading h5n1 Africa, Europe

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    Martin W

      Aricle in NY Times won't be a surprise to anyone familiar with situation re wild birds and H5N1 (well, contents not a surprise; may be a suprise to see an article on the issue that's factual rather than speculative poop).

      Juan Lubroth of FAO, quoted here, is disingenuous re our not having answers: situation in east Asia has shown wild birds can't survive and sustain and spread H5N1 (tho in article, too, is hint of Tooth Fairy Bird – as if it might still exist despite no evidence). Plus, in evolutionary biology, sound reasons as to why. The article:

      By ELISABETH ROSENTHAL ROME, May 10 — Defying the dire predictions of health officials, the flocks of migratory birds that flew south to Africa last fall, then back over Europe in recent weeks did not carry the deadly bird flu virus or spread it during their annual journey, scientists have concluded. International health officials had feared that the disease was likely to spread to Africa during the southward migration and return to Europe with a vengeance during the reverse migration this spring.

      That has not happened — a significant finding for Europe, because it is far easier to monitor a virus that exists domestically on farms but not in the wild. "It is quiet now in terms of cases, which is contrary to what many people had expected," said Ward Hagemeijer, a bird flu specialist with Wetlands International, an environmental group based in the Netherlands that studies migratory birds. In thousands of samples collected in Africa this winter, the bird flu virus, A(H5N1), was not detected in a single wild bird, health officials and scientists said. In Europe, only a few cases have been detected in wild birds since April 1, at the height of the migration north. The number of cases in Europe has fallen off so steeply compared with February, when dozens of new cases were found daily, that specialists contend that the northward spring migration played no role.

      The flu was found in one grebe in Denmark on April 28 — the last case discovered — and a falcon in Germany and a few swans in France, said the World Organization for Animal Health, based in Paris. In response to the good news, agriculture officials in many European countries are lifting restrictions intended to protect valuable poultry from infected wild birds. In the first week of May, the Netherlands and Switzerland rescinded mandates that poultry be kept indoors. Austria has loosened similar regulations, and France is considering doing so. The cases in Europe in February were attributed to infected wild birds that traveled west to avoid severe cold in Russia and Central Asia but apparently never carried the virus to Africa.

      The international scientists who had issued the earlier warnings are perplexed, unsure if their precautions — like intensive surveillance and eliminating contact between poultry and wild birds — helped defuse a time bomb or if nature simply granted a reprieve. "Is it like Y2K, where also nothing happened?" asked Juan Lubroth, a senior veterinary official at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome, referring to the expected computer failures that did not materialize as 1999 turned to 2000. "Perhaps it is because it was not as bad as we feared, or perhaps it is because people took the right measures."

      Still, he and others say, the lack of wild bird cases in Europe only underscores how little is understood about the virus. And scientists warn that it could return to Europe. "Maybe we will be lucky and this virus will just die out in the wild," Mr. Lubroth said. "But maybe it will come back strong next year. We just don't have the answers." The feared A(H5N1) bird flu virus does not now spread among humans, although scientists are worried it may acquire that ability through natural processes, setting off a worldwide pandemic. The less bird flu is present in nature and domestically on farms, the less likely it is for such an evolution to occur, they say. Worldwide, bird flu has killed about 200 humans, almost all of whom were in extremely close contact with sick birds.

      Specialists from Wetlands International, who were deputized by the Food and Agriculture Organization, sampled 7,500 African wild birds last winter in a search for the disease. They found no A(H5N1), Mr. Hagemeijer said, so it is not surprising that it did not return to Europe with the spring migration. While bird flu has become a huge problem in poultry on farms in a few African countries, including Egypt, Nigeria and Sudan, specialists increasingly suspect that it was introduced in those countries through imported infected poultry and poultry products. Mr. Hagemeijer said the strength of the virus among wild birds possibly weakened as the southward migration season progressed, a trait he said was common in less dangerous bird flu viruses. That probably limited its spread in Africa, he said. A(H5N1) is the most deadly of a large family of bird flu viruses, most of which produce only minor illness in birds.

      Many bird flu viruses are picked up by migratory birds in their nesting places in northern lakes during the summer and fall breeding season. As the months pass, the viruses show a decreasing pattern of spread and contamination. "So it tends to be mostly a north-to-south spread, and then it wanes," Mr. Hagemeijer said. Still, this means that the cycle could start again this summer, if the virus — which can live for long periods in water — has persisted in those breeding areas.

      Many bird specialists contend that a small number of wetland lakes in Central Asia and Russia may harbor the virus all the time, serving as the origin of European and Central Asian infections. Scientists still do not know which birds carry the virus silently and which die from it quickly, or how it typically spreads from wild bird to wild bird, or between wild birds and poultry. Farm-based outbreaks of bird flu are still occurring constantly in a number of countries, although not in Europe. Ivory Coast had its first outbreak of bird flu, on a farm, last week.

      But other countries, like Turkey, have made substantial progress in containing the disease among poultry, Mr. Lubroth said. He added that he hoped that quick measures to limit outbreaks had reduced the virus's spread in Africa. After the virus was found on farms in Nigeria in January, many specialists expected it to spread rapidly among farms and into wild birds in the region. Apparently, it did not. "Why didn't it sweep up the coast from Niger, to Benin and Senegal and back up through Europe? Why didn't it hit Africa's big lakes?" Mr. Lubroth asked. "All we have are a few snapshots of the virus. What we need is a movie of its life cycle."

      Despite Predictions, Migrating Birds Didn't Carry Deadly Flu


      In Herald Tribune it is published with free access.


      At May 12th a german Agro-Food Corp. reports about it.


      I’m Redcap. :P

      Post edited by: Coleman, at: 2006/05/23 22:06

      Post edited by: Coleman, at: 2006/05/23 22:22

      Martin W

        Thanks for the link, tho now need subscription to view. Now, this interview – even Int Organisation for Animal Health, which with FAO has been big blamer of wild birds, saying trade looking a more important vector than migrating birds. (Article says conservationists agree wild birds playing a role: all agree wild birds – inc swans – have flown some distances in Europe before dying, but whether they actually spread it to others is not certain.)

        PARIS, May 22 (Reuters) – The failure of the H5N1 virus to take hold in wild birds in Africa points to trade not migration as the major factor in spreading the disease on the continent, a top veterinary official said on Monday. Ever since the deadly Asian H5N1 strain of bird flu was found in Nigeria, experts believed wintering birds could carry the virus back to Europe when they returned in the spring. Yet that migration period is now all but over and there have been no cases in Europe directly linked to birds from Africa, where the H5N1 virus has been confined to poultry farms.

        Bonaventure Mtei, the World Animal Health Organisation (OIE) representative for southern Africa, said there have been few signs of migratory birds carrying the virus in the continent. "So we think trade is the most critical factor in the interaction of the disease in Africa," he told Reuters during the OIE general assembly in Paris. The findings contrast sharply with the situation earlier this year in Europe, where wild birds migrating from near the Black Sea carried H5N1 as far as France. Infected birds, mostly swans, flew westwards. Hundreds of cases turned up in Europe and some farms were infected. The end of the African migration season has prompted many governments in Europe, including France, to relax curbs on keeping poultry outside. The bans are likely to be re-instated in the autumn when birds from eastern Russia cross Europe again on their way to African wintering grounds.


        The migration versus trade theories have been the subject of much speculation. Conservationists have always said that some disease "hotspots" do not correspond to known migratory routes. They admit that migration has played a role in spreading the virus in Europe, but doubt that infected birds could physically fly the distances needed to carry it between Africa and Europe. They also point to the fact that favourite wintering areas in Africa such as Kenya’s Rift Valley have seen no H5N1 cases. "A lot of work has been done to try and sample the wild birds (in Africa)," Mtei said. "To our knowledge so far there is no indication that the virus has been recovered from either migratory or wild birds in Africa," he added. [try telling that to the ridiculous Debora MacKenzie of New Scientist! – but what are facts when you have a good story?]

        This leaves trade, either illegal or legal, in poultry as the main risk. He said that while most commercial poultry farms had set up good biosecurity measures, the many small-scale backyard farms had practically none at all. Porous borders and a flourishing informal chicken trade have been seen as key reasons for the spread of the virus across Nigeria and to neighbouring countries. Yet Mtei said it was still too early to rule out any transmission by migratory birds, particularly as the numbers of birds flying the vast distances were huge. [silly fools! – why not look at East Asia??] Experts believe that billions of birds fly from the northern hemisphere to winter in Africa every year. "The migratory theory has not yet been proved false," he said. "We are dealing with large bird populations and we may not have captured sufficient samples." [OIE clinging on, unwilling to admit major mistakes based on tiny evidence and massive supposition]

        INTERVIEW-Bird flu in Africa more from trade than migration


        Yesterday night i found this …
        Avian flu: Don’t place all the blame on wild birds
        22 May 2006

        Avian flu: Don’t place all the blame on wild birds
        Human activities not birds more likely to spread the virus

        Avian influenza (bird flu) is a complex issue in which wild birds have most often been identified as the culprits. It is indeed likely that they can introduce the disease to unaffected areas from countries in which the disease has already been identified – but the disease is spread through the human activities of poultry production, improper hygiene and uncontrolled commercialisation.

        It is unreasonable to place the blame on wild birds as the source of the H5N1 strain of the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) virus in the absence of rigorous research into their role in the ecology and dynamics of the virus. FAO has been calling for such research since early 2004, but insufficient resources have been allocated to be able to study the question properly.

        The simple fact is that more research is needed to understand wild bird migration and the vulnerability of different species in order to perform proper risk assessments, and recommend risk mitigation measures where required.

        To this end, FAO and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) are organising an international scientific conference on avian influenza and wild birds from 30-31 May in Rome to try to understand better the role of wild birds in the transmission of avian flu. Also up for discussion will be the risk of wild birds becoming a permanent reservoir of the virus and identification of the main knowledge gaps for research.

        In the meantime, notes Juan Lubroth, Head of FAO’s Infectious Disease Group, it is very easy to point the finger at migratory birds, but this distracts from the effort it and OIE are making to improving hygiene, good husbandry and production practices and monitoring of the poultry sector which require strong partnerships between the regulatory government sector and private industry and its farmers.

        As an international agency which has invested considerable resources in numerous aspects of biodiversity preservation and conservation, FAO would be the last to pinpoint wildlife as the sole source of virus dissemination.

        FAO and OIE, along with working partners such as the Wildlife Conservation Society and Wetlands International, have repeatedly stressed that prevention (through better hygiene in the production chain), control and HPAI eradication efforts should be targeted at all poultry production sectors – be it in the commercial or rural household sectors – in order to contain the disease and prevent it from spreading further.

        Surveillance for avian influenza viruses and the presence of the HPAI H5N1 virus in wildlife can be given priority only once adequate surveillance of the poultry sector is in place, since poultry are more likely to transmit infection to humans and other susceptible animals. To devote resources to monitoring wild birds rather than take stock of production practices and improving such practices would not be justified.

        At the same time, FAO is not particularly in favour of the banning of regularised and sanctioned hunting of wildlife for sport, tradition or livelihood for the simple reason that informal and illegal would most likely continue. It argues that hunters and hunting clubs should join the avian flu surveillance effort by becoming sources of information and even providers of valuable field samples for the study of viruses that these species could carry.

        Martin W

          Hi Coleman:

          Many thanks for this.
          V interesting.
          I notice that Joseph Domenech, Chief Bird Blamer of FAO, isn’t quoted.
          [Juan Lubroth always quieter re wild birds’ role; last year, I was cc’d an email from him, saying that they didn’nt know how Qinghai Lake birds got H5N1. May be interested in bar-headed goose farming.]

          I was invited to the conference; sadly, lack funds to go.
          Oh how I’d love to talk with Domenech; inc to ask him about integrated farming and H5N1.


          Post edited by: martin, at: 2006/05/25 01:32

          Martin W

            Just as the conference in Rome is underway, another item saying pattern of spread doesn’t fit migratory bird movements, and quoting Juan Lubroth of FAO (also Birdlife’s Richard Thomas).

            Includes Lubroth saying:

            “I’ve been stumped by this virus for the last two years,” Lubroth said. “Certain things we thought would happen didn’t, and then things we didn’t think would happen did.”

            It’s possible, Lubroth said, that wild birds are being infected by poultry.

            – here, shows the massive stupidity in ignoring situation in east Asia. Stupid, and was it also (as Nial has suggested) driven by some racial bias? We’ve seen, say, notions expressed that Asian countries aren’t good at detecting virus, never mind sampling experience in Hong Kong, for instance.

            Ah well, perhaps truth will indeed out.
            Just gotta hope that the reports re Russian brigades scaring and shooting birds are wildly exaggerated or untrue.

            Bird-Flu Trail Leads Medical Detectives Back to Poultry Farms

            Martin W

              From a Bloomberg item:

              Jan. 16 (Bloomberg) — Thailand, the world’s fourth-largest poultry exporter, found avian flu in pigeons and other wild birds, prompting the government to intensify surveillance for the lethal virus that threatens to infect humans.

              Four pigeons were among a group of wild birds that died last month in the central province of Suphan Buri. Tests confirmed they had the H5N1 strain of avian influenza, Thawat Suntrajarn, the Health Ministry’s director general of disease control, said in an interview broadcast on Business Radio today.

              “We have asked all related officials to closely monitor the death of poultry and birds,” Thawat said. “Any people that have flu-like symptoms with a history of contacting poultry will be quarantined.”

              There is little evidence linking human cases with contact with wild birds, said Denis Hoffmann, a technical adviser on avian flu with the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization in Bangkok.

              “With good protection, there is not much concern about virus infection in wild birds” spreading to humans, Hoffmann said in a telephone interview today.

              “A lot more blame has been put on migrating birds, but they are not necessary the cause” of H5N1 outbreaks in domestic fowl, he said. “There is a lot of evidence some bird flu is spread by the movement of poultry products and eggs.”

              Thailand’s Agricultural Ministry yesterday said 2,100 poultry were culled to contain an outbreak in Phitsanulok province, about 377 kilometers (234 miles) north of Bangkok. Outbreaks in the Southeast Asian nation last year killed three people in July and August.

              Thailand Reports H5N1 Avian Flu Strain in Wild Birds (Update4)

              – wonder if the other “wild birds” were – like the pigeons – residents, living closely with man, including perhaps feeding on grain that’s been pooped on by chickens.
              – slso good to see the FAO quote; tho must guess Joseph Domenech is still ready and willing to blame wild birds for nigh on all infections across borders.

              Martin W

                Taken time, but some admission of earlier stupidity from FAO, in article in Int Herald Tribune:

                Most of the scattered bird flu outbreaks so far this year probably can be traced to illegal or improper trade in poultry, scientists believe. This probably includes recent outbreaks in Nigeria and Egypt as well as the large outbreak on a turkey farm in England.

                Last winter, wild migrating birds were deemed the primary culprit in the bird flu infestations that hopscotched across Europe and Africa. Dead swans and ducks were found in many countries, including Austria, France and Italy. [Yes, but were never tied to outbreaks in farms; indeed, as these birds died, the virus in the wild died with them.]

                Many of us at the outset underestimated the role of trade,” said Samuel Jutzi, director of Animal Production and Health at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome. “The virus is behaving rather differently than last year — it’s rather enigmatic.” [No, just some folks struggle to comprehend as so immersed in the myth of the Tooth Fairy Bird – the “wild birds” that mysteriously spread H5N1.]

                No outbreaks have been attributed to wild birds so far this season and not a single infected wild bird has been detected in Europe or Africa, despite a heightened surveillance system devised in the wake of the crisis last year.

                In Africa and Asia, several countries have emerged this season as perpetual bird flu trouble spots, with constant cases in birds and some transmission to humans: Indonesia in Asia and Egypt and Nigeria in Africa. Trade may play a role in these countries as well, officials said.

                “There’s still some way to go in these three places,” Jutzi said. “In most places where we’ve seen outbreaks this year — like South Korea, the U.K., Thailand, Vietnam — the disease has re-emerged as we expected it would from time to time, but we’re confident that it has been brought under control.”

                Illegal trade suspected in bird flu outbreaks
                Illicit poultry import cited as chief culprit

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