This is an important outcome as many feared that through the sequence of Autumn and Spring migration, HP H5N1 would be carried by wild birds from the outbreak areas into Africa and then back up into Europe.
The outcomes strengthen the earlier assessment by Wetlands International that the outbreaks of avian flu (HP H5N1) in African poultry farms are unlikely to have been caused by wild birds.
The global NGO Wetlands International and the French organization CIRAD investigated thousands of wild waterbirds in Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe. The preliminary outcomes of the research are presented today at an international symposium organised by the FAO in Rome.
In Africa, the researchers did find several low pathogenic viruses in wild birds. However the lethal HP H5N1 virus was never found with wild birds in Africa. This coincides with the absence of new outbreaks this spring linked to birds migrating from Africa. Although we have seen outbreaks in many European countries this spring, these were not linked to wild birds coming from Africa.
Wetlands International has consistently stated that the outbreaks in African poultry farms in Nigeria, Burkina Faso and several other African countries were unlikely to have been caused by wild birds. The location of these sites as well as the timing of the outbreaks in poultry plus the lack of outbreaks amongst wild birds along the migratory routes do not support the hypothesis of a major role for wild birds in the spread of the virus into Africa. Wetlands International repeats its plea for more work to understand and manage the role of the trade of poultry, poultry products and caged birds in the spread of HP H5N1. Migration is a complex phenomenon and it brings birds to Europe from many more areas than just from Africa. The risk of HP H5N1 getting to Europe with wild birds can therefore by no means be excluded. The research of FAO, CIRAD and Wetlands International will continue in the coming year and will provide more information into risk assessments in relation to the role of wild birds in the spread of H5N1. Wetlands International is also working with partners to extend this surveillance work to other parts of Asia. It will therefore help to inform the difficult decisions that Governments have to take concerning measures such as bringing poultry indoors during migration periods.
Programme leader Avian Influenza
Communications and Advocacy Department
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