U.S. Bird Flu Detection Plan Is Wild Goose Chase, Study Says

Adrianne Appel
for National Geographic News
December 5, 2006

Officials are looking in the wrong place to stop the spread of bird flu to the U.S., a new study suggests.

The report predicts that bird flu will likely spread to the Americas through infected poultry. This poultry may then infect local wild birds, which could carry the disease from Latin America or Canada to the United States.

The U.S. is currently testing thousands of wild birds in Alaska, because authorities believe the flu is likely to be carried from Asia to the U.S. by migrating waterfowl.

(Read "Alaskan Ducks Tested for Bird Flu" [September 13, 2005].)

The new report, from the New York-based Consortium for Conservation Medicine, studied migration patterns and the bird trade. The study suggests that birds migrating from Siberia to Alaska are unlikely to carry the virus and that few of those birds ultimately fly farther south.

"We share very few migratory birds with Europe and Siberia. There are ducks and geese that winter in Siberia and molt in Alaska, but they don't come down here," said research scientist A. Marm Kilpatrick, co-author of the study.

The U.S. has also been trying to keep the disease at bay by testing and quarantining all poultry imported from infected regions of Europe, Asia, and Africa.

But there is very little poultry trade between Asia and Europe and the U.S., Kilpatrick said, so the risk of the U.S. getting infected that way is very low.

Furthermore, few birds migrate between Europe and the Americas, Kilpatrick added.

A far greater risk is that many countries in Latin America import poultry from infected regions of Europe and do not have strict testing and quarantine systems in place, Kilpatrick said. In addition, more than four million birds migrate annually between the U.S. and Latin America.

"If your neighbor gets the virus and birds migrate, you're at risk,'' he said.

His team's research appears in today's issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Continued on Next Page >>


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