Sunday, December 11, 2005

ENV: Poultry Flu Gone Wild

There's still media mass panic over this. Simple science knowledge would help, but then that particular brand of ignorance is why there remains an ID debate.

California Hunters Aid U.S. Bird Flu Defense
Hunters Work with Scientists to Monitor for Avian Flu

LAKEVIEW, Calif., Dec. 10, 2005 — - The first line of defense against the bird flu is early detection, so in California, scientists are enlisting an unusual ally -- hunters.

Side-by-side, the hunters and scientists are looking for birds migrating from infected Asia.

"Basically, hunters are sampling the birds for us," said Dr. Walter Boyce, executive director of the University of California-Davis Wildlife Health Center. "So when they bring the birds in, we can take our samples to see if those birds are infected with avian influenza virus.

"These swabs basically just give us a window of what is inside the birds, inside their intestinal tracks," he added.

Birds from Asia
California is under a microscope because it is part of what's called the Pacific Flyway, a migration path that includes birds from already infected parts of northeast Asia. They arrive in Alaska, then fly south through California on their way to South America.

That's unwelcome news for a lifelong hunter like Frank Melendez.

"To hear that those birds may mingle and work into this fly zone is something to be aware of," Melendez said.

California Fish and Game officers are cautioning hunters to wear latex gloves when handling dead birds.

Soon, hunters in other states will be doing that, too. The U.S. Dept. of Interior has requested $11.5 million for a national wildlife surveillance program in 2006.

If the virus ever reaches the U.S., researchers say the best defense will be to detect it early.

"The stakes are certainly very high with this virus," said Dr. Carol Cardona, a University of California-Davis researcher. "It has done things we have never seen before with influenza viruses."

The concern with migrating birds is that they travel over such a large area. Zoos nationwide are trying to figure out how to protect outdoor exhibits where wild birds can mix with zoo birds. Poultry farmers are working to avoid cross contamination with wild birds that may fly in -- by keeping chickens indoors and their feed covered.

"The Asian virus is a highly pathogenic virus," said Jim Haley, a farmer. "It if came to my flock, it would devastate them."

While so much attention is already focused on bird flu vaccine, the University of California-Davis scientists face the challenge of determining whether the virus is already in the seemingly endless sea of birds.

ABC News' Neal Karlinsky originally reported this story for "World News Tonight" on Dec. 10, 2005.


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