A top research scientist with the Smithsonian Institution, has suggested that there are huge gaps in the American defences, against the spread of the deadly avian flu virus in the USA.
The potential for spreading avian flu is 15 times higher among poultry flocks than among wild birds, according to data presented by Peter Marra, a research scientist with the Smithsonian Institution and the National Zoo in Washington.
“While the U.S. does not now allow importation of live poultry, both Canada and Mexico still do. The U.S. also imported 45,000 exotic birds for the pet trade last year, he said.
“Mara said that the officials should be paying closer attention to poultry flocks and imported pet birds as possible vectors for avian flu.
Peter Marra told fellow ornithologists gathered at the University of Maine on Saturday, that health and wildlife officials may be focusing too heavily on migratory birds, when looking deadly avian flu virus.
Marra, a research scientist with the National Zoo’s Migratory Bird Center, said he believes officials should be paying closer attention to poultry flocks and imported pet birds as possible vectors for avian flu.
“Yes, I believe [migratory birds] are contributing, but I believe we have to look at these other pathways,” Marra told attendees of the Association of Field Ornithologists’ annual meeting being held at UMaine.
Marra said he had spent considerable time urging federal agencies, politicians on Capitol Hill and White House officials to broaden monitoring programs for the H5N1 strain of avian flu beyond wild birds.
But so far, Marra does not believe his message is getting through.
“Are we prepared to detect it? I don’t think so,” Marra said.
Marra questioned the usefulness of tests on live birds, explaining that birds infected with H5N1 will either quickly die or develop antibodies to the virus. Instead, officials should be spending more time — and money — testing dead birds, he said.
Marra said scientists still do not understand the ecology of H5N1 as well as how the virus might spread through migratory birds. That’s because, while the migratory patterns of some birds are well known, many others are still unclear, he said.
The Smithsonian researcher also strongly criticized some countries’ attempts to control the spread of the deadly avian flu virus by killing massive numbers of wild birds.
“The culling of wild birds will never prevent the spread of H5N1,” he said.
Marra’s presentation was one of about a dozen lectures or panel discussions held during the weekend as part of the Association of Field Ornithologists meeting. http://bangordailynews.com/news/t/news.aspx?articleid=152577&zoneid=500
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