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Wild birds not the most likely cause of avian flu


The United Nations state that the recent spread of avian flu to Turkey is caused by wild birds.  Millions of these wild birds have now reached their winter destination. No serious outbreak due to these migrations has occurred yet. However, several outbreaks in the poultry sector did occur.

Many feared the last winter migration of wild birds. Millions of birds left the infected areas and flew to southern destinations like Africa. There, millions of waterbirds meet every winter in wetlands before they spread again over the world. Only a few sick birds might be able to cause a major and global outbreak. Several governments took precautions to stop the spread of the flu by wild birds, like measures to keep poultry inside.

These scenarios haven’t occurred at all. Although millions of birds migrated over the world, there is no evidence of any spread of the flu by wild birds. The wild birds in Asia were likely too ill to be able to take part in the winter migration. However, there is clear evidence of the trade of poultry between old and newly infected areas.

During the last months, avian flu spread to several Eastern European countries and to Turkey. “The quick conclusion by politicians and media that wild birds were also here too blame for the outbreak is the result of a narrow minded view on the problem” according to Ward Hagemeijer from Wetlands International.

Although there is no proof yet, there is a clear pattern of legal and illegal poultry trade between old and newly infected areas; for instance between China and Turkey. After this winter period, there is enough reason to stop the unbalanced focus on wild birds and to give more attention to the global legal and illegal transport of poultry. This sector is likely be the real threat.

Ward Hagemeijer 
Wetlands International

23rd of January 2006

Alex Kaat
06-5060 1917

Wetlands International is a global organisation that monitors the migration of millions of waterbirds annually. At this moment, the organization conducts several research programmes to understand the possible spread of the avian flu among wild birds.

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