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  Channel NewsAsia 3 Sep 07
H5N1 virus may pose less danger to wild birds: new findings

BANGKOK: The link between wild birds and the spread of avian flu has long been of concern to scientists and health officials, but new findings indicate there could be less cause for worry.

While the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus has a devastating effect on poultry, it appears to pose less of a danger to wild birds.

Avian influenza is known as a poultry disease and there have been only hypotheses about its transmission from domestic wild birds and vice versa.

Scientists have taken over 350,000 samples from wild birds worldwide, and found only a handful of confirmed cases of bird flu.

Yet, a major concern in the fight against bird flu is the possible transmission of the virus by infected migratory wild birds. As wild birds move around freely, health experts have few clues on how to control or track them.

Meeting at a UN Food and Agricultural Organisation seminar in Bangkok to discuss the threat, health experts agreed on the need for a multi-disciplinary, integrated multi-national approach.

"We have the impact on human health directly, and how that might drive the movement of people that could affect global trade and tourism. And people's livelihoods - are they able to raise food? It's able to affect some of the poorest and people living in the most marginal situations, so it's a disease that hits very hard on people who depend on poultry," said William Karesh, chief of party for the Global Avian Influenza Network for Surveillance (GAINS).

To determine the role of wild birds in any bird flu outbreak, the experts called for cooperation between the affected country's agriculture ministry and its forestry or environment ministry.

A particular challenge to Southeast Asian nations such as Thailand is the need to teach farmers how to handle sick or dead poultry properly, and to put biosecurity measures in place.

"They can put the net above their farms to prevent the wild birds or other birds (from getting) into the farms. It's one of the basic things. The second thing is that you don't keep mixed species in the same farm," said Parntep Ratanakorn, head of Monitoring Centre for Zoonotic Diseases at Mahidol University. - CNA/ac

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