An interesting new paper published in the British Ecological Society's Journal of Applied Ecology (see here) has looked at the potential for migrating birds to spread the highly contagious H5N1 'bird flu' pathogen.

Potential spread of highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 by wildfowl: dispersal ranges and rates determined from large-scale satellite telemetry concludes that the global spread of H5N1 by direct migration of wildfowl, whilst theoretically possible, is very unlikely as it would require a window of opportunity of only 5-15 days to coincide precisely with infected migrating birds (that are well enough to migrate and therefore unlikely to not display visible symptoms of infection), with such birds undertaking the shortest and quickest possible migration route (which wildfowl rarely do as they make frequent stops at regular staging posts).

This is the latest of several papers which support the view that the H5N1 strain is misnamed 'bird flu' as it is clearly an industrial 'poultry flu' which has the capability to spread to local wild bird populations and to humans and that migrating wild birds are not the origin or the cause of dispersal during outbreaks.

This latest research also has the ability to better understand the dispersal risk of avian-borne diseases such as West Nile Virus.

Full citation: Gaidet. N, Cappelle, J, Takekawa. J, Prosser. D, Iverson. S, Douglas. D, Perry. W, Mundkur. T, Newman. S, Potential spread of highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 by wildfowl: dispersal ranges and rates determined from large-scale satellite telemetry, The Journal of Applied Ecology, Wiley-Blackwell, August 2010, DOI:10.1111/j.1365-2664.2010.01845.x

Related link: abstracts from the BOU conference on Avian influenza and other bird diseases conference.

Steve Dudley
BOU | www.bou.org.uk