Is the U.S. Looking in the Wrong Direction for the Avian Flu?

By Maddy Sauer

Dec 6, 2006 11:56am

While the U.S. has focused on Alaska as the most likely place where migratory birds could first bring the avian flu virus to the states, a new study suggests that it is more likely to come from the South.  And so far, the U.S. has not focused its attention there. The study, to be published later this week, suggests that the H5N1 avian influenza will most likely be brought to the Western Hemisphere through infected poultry to Central and South America and that "the subsequent movement of infected migrating birds from countries south of the U.S. would be a likely pathway for H5N1 avian influenza to reach the U.S.A." The study was led by Dr. Marm Kilpatrick of the Consortium for Conservation Medicine, along with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Smithsonian. THE BLOTTER RECOMMENDS Avian Flu Still a Risk; New More Dire Predictions More New Evidence That Children May Be at Greatest Risk for Avian Flu Click Here for to Check Out the Latest Brian Ross Investigates Webcast According to Kilpatrick, while the U.S. has tight controls on poultry imports, such as a USDA 30-day quarantine and influenza testing, other countries in Central and South America do not have adequate controls.  Kilpatrick and the others conclude that infected poultry would then contaminate migratory birds that would migrate to the U.S. from the South. "Subsequent spread by the greater than 4 million migratory ducks, geese and swans," says the report, "from the south would then make introduction into the United States likely." Kilpatrick says that he is concerned that U.S. efforts so far have focused on the virus coming down from the North. "The South is certainly not the focus of our surveillance efforts right now, and that is somewhat surprising," he said. A spokesman for the Fish & Wildlife Department, Nicholas Throckmorton, acknowledged today that surveillance efforts have focused mostly on Alaska and the Northwest, but he added that over the course of the year the understanding of the disease has become better and better. Throckmorton said this study as well as others will be incorporated into the planning process for the 2007 surveillance program, which will begin shortly. The study also concludes that tighter controls on poultry could help reduce the risk of spread. "We conclude that the most effective strategy to prevent H5N1 from being introduced into the Western Hemisphere would be strict controls or a ban on the importation of poultry and wild birds into the Americas and stronger enforcement to curb illegal trade," said the report.

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