The recent outbreak of the H5N8 strain of Avian Influenza is causing many victims amongst poultry and wild birds in the Republic of Korea. The Scientific Task Force on Avian Influenza and Wild Birds has issued a statement on this outbreak saying that there is currently no evidence that wild birds are the source of this virus. Instead the focus of disease control actions must be on the domestic poultry sector.
The Republic of Korea reported the first outbreak of H5N8 highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) on 16 January. Over 640,000 poultry have already been slaughtered, with many hundreds of thousands more set to be destroyed. According to the Scientific Task Force on Avian Influenza and Wild Birds which includes Wetlands International, there is currently no evidence that wild birds are the source of this virus and they should be considered victims not vectors. Following these outbreaks a number of wild birds have been reported as having died from the infection.
The Task Force states that blaming wild birds for the introduction and spread of the virus can lead to less focused disease control activities and potential spread of the virus. Outbreaks of HPAI are most frequently associated with domestic poultry production systems and value chains and that is where the focus of disease control actions must be.
As Korea provides the main wintering grounds for various species of wild birds, it is urgent to prevent the birds from being involved in onward spread of the virus. This can be done by keeping wild birds from the affected farms and by not disturbing them in their natural habitats which are the low risk areas.
Investigations are underway to try to determine the source of the virus associated with this event.
The first outbreak of this HPAI event was reported at a duck farm in Gochang, Jeolla Province, 300 kilometers southwest of Seoul.
Read the official statement by the Scientific Task Force on Avian Influenza and Wild Birds.
As a founding member of the United Nations-led Scientific Task Force on Avian Influenza and Wild Birds, Wetlands International advises on how to contain the spread of the virus without damaging waterbirds and wetlands. Our work confirms that wild birds are very unlikely to disperse disease-causing virus strains over extensive distances. We work to ensure decisions and responses to disease outbreaks are effective and fact-based. This prevents unnecessary and destructive panic-measures against waterbirds or wetlands. Learn more.
Dr. Taej Mundkur
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