Wild Migratory Waterbirds are the Victims of Bird Flu, not the Cause

1As a new bird flu outbreak hits domestic duck farms in North Jeolla province in Korea this week, we are hearing the usual speculation and misinformation about the role of migratory waterbirds in the transmission of the disease. Mild, so-called Low Pathogenic, strains of avian influenza (LPAI) occur naturally in populations of wild and domestic birds, with no ill effects. However, High Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI), such as the H5N8 strain reported from North Jeolla, is generally a disease of domestic poultry (chickens and ducks) raised at very high densities in unnaturally confined conditions, such as duck farms. This strain has not been reported to occur in wild birds before. Statements that HPAI H5N8 may have originated with flocks of wild migratory birds have not been substantiated.

To control outbreaks of HPAI, affected farms need effectively biosecurity measures. All contact with water sources both going into and out from affected areas needs to be halted, movement of live and dead birds and poultry products, bird feed, medicines, farming equipment and transport into and out of the farms has to be very strictly limited and controlled following the internationally agreed guidelines of FAO and OIE. Additionally, movements of people into and out of the farms need to be strictly controlled and monitored as per these internationally agreed protocols. Nearby unaffected farms also need to follow these protocols, especially with respect to avoiding potentially contaminated water bodies.

It is likely that the HPAI strain has been transmitted from the affected domestic poultry farms to the wider environment including the water bodies used by the wild birds. In the case of wild birds, they can potentially pick up the virus from contaminated water bodies and pass it to other nearby water bodies. Most infected wild birds die very quickly. All evidence suggests that the role of infected migratory birds in spreading HPAI strains is very minor, especially compared to the trade in poultry and poultry products, the trade in cage birds and human movements.

The flocks of Baikal Teal that winter in South Korea provide a wonderful spectacle for people living in the area, as well as visitors. They arrived from Russia three months ago and if they had some form of highly pathogenic disease, they would certainly not have been able to survive until now, when this recent outbreak of HPAI H5N8 first occurred on the duck farms. The Ministry of Environment has a duty to protect these birds, for which the Republic of Korea is the main wintering ground. By following the biosecurity protocols at the poultry farms, not only can further harm to the poultry industry be avoided, but Baikal Teals and other wild birds will be protected from HPAI infections.

FAO International Biosecurity: http://www.fao.org/docrep/011/i0359e/i0359e00.htm


About the East Asian-Australasian Flyway Partnership (EAAFP)

?????The Partnership, adopted in the list of the World Summit on Sustainable  Development (WSSD) as a Type II initiative – is an informal and voluntary initiative, which aims to protect migratory waterbirds, their habitats and the livelihoods of people dependent upon them within the Flyway. There are currently 30 partners including 15 national governments, four intergovernmental agencies, 10 international non-government organizations and one international business organization.

For more information see our home page and more here, www.eaaflyway.net.

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