Bird flu task force warns of too much focus on wild birds

By Georgi Gyton

- Last updated on GMT

The Taskforce says the migration of wild birds from eastern Asia to Europe would be highly unusual
The Taskforce says the migration of wild birds from eastern Asia to Europe would be highly unusual

Related tags Avian influenza Asia Poultry

The Scientific Task Force on Avian Influenza and Wild Birds has warned that focusing attention on the possible role of wild birds in the spread of H5N8 could misdirect critical resources away from effective disease control.

In a statement published last week, it said that, regardless of the source of infection, the focus should be on disease control actions at the affected farms, in order to minimise the risk of further spread of avian influenza.

It pointed out that highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) was typically spread via contaminated poultry, but that wild birds may also play a role.

The Task Force suggested that the current H5N8 outbreak may have originated in poultry, before spilling into the wild bird population and then back into poultry, which was a pattern also seen with the H5N1 HPAI virus.

While investigations into the source of the current outbreak, which has been seen in South Korea earlier this year, before appearing in Europe last month, there is speculation that it has spread from eastern Asia, via wild birds.

"Firstly, it should be noted that direct migration by wild birds from eastern Asia to western Europe would be highly unusual. Flyways are characteristically ‘north–south’ (with some areas of ‘overlap’ of contiguous flyways at higher latitudes), and waterbirds breeding in north-east Asia tend to migrate southwards into east and south-east Asia, and not into Europe,"​ said the statement.

It added that the movement of the virus from eastern Asia to western Europe via the wild bird population would be "extraordinary"​ given the short time frame and the absence of extreme weather conditions during this period.

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