Bird Flu is spread by bad practices, not by wild birds

We were warned last year that by November 2005, the Avian Influenza strain known as H5N1 would have reached East Africa, carried there by migrating wild birds. The Doom Mongers droned on about the risk to Seychelles and showed bogus maps downloaded from the Internet. However, the avian flu did not reach Africa or Seychelles or other nearby countries.
I was in India in December and visited the famous Bharatpur bird sanctuary were we saw many species of migratory birds at close range. Some of the birds had been tested for the deadly H5N1 but the results were all negative.

The case against wild birds as carriers of the H5N1 flu has never been scientifically proven as I have pointed out before. The FAO has said that extensive testing of live migratory birds in the infected countries has not produced any positive results for H5N1.  It seems we must look elsewhere for the cause of the epidemic.

My colleagues at BirdLife International have said that the pattern of outbreaks has followed road and rail routes, not migratory bird flyways. The export of infected poultry and poultry products  could be a major cause of the spread. South Korea and Japan suffered outbreaks of H5N1 in poultry and wild birds following importation of infected duck meat. Destroying infected poultry and banning imports of poultry and poultry products eliminated the flu. It has not remerged despite the arrival of hundreds of thousands of migratory birds.

Another major clue points to H5N1 outbreaks in wild birds around fish farms in China, Romania and Croatia where poultry manure is used as feed in fish-ponds. This is a widespread practice ranging from east and south-east Asia  to eastern and central Europe. FAO and the WHO have said this is a “high risk” practice and should be stopped anywhere where the avian flu might realistically emerge. Manufacture and movement of untreated poultry manure is seen as an easy way of spreading H5N1 over long distances.

The widespread illegal trade in cage birds is also responsible for moving  infected birds from country to country. Two consignments of infected birds being smuggled from mainland China into Taiwan were recently intercepted for example. Smuggled cage birds were also responsible for an outbreak of the avian flu at a quarantine station in the UK.

There is no evidence that H5N1 infections in humans have been acquired from wild birds.  So, we should not worry too much about getting the bird flu from wild birds. Instead, we should take heed of the latest information and improve our national biosecurity.

by Nirmal Jivan Shah, Nature Seychelles' CEO, on the People Articles, February 2nd  2006.

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