Wildlife health experts from the Bronx Zoo-based Wildlife ConservationSociety (WCS) warn that efforts to control the spread of avian fluacross Asia and beyond must focus on better management practices onfarms and in markets.
WCS is currently working with Mongolian agencies on the ground inMongolia's Kovsgol province, collecting samples from wild birds thathave recently contracted the virus.
"We're working with our Mongolian and international partners to confirmand track the movements of Avian flu in the region," said Dr. BillyKaresh, head of the WCS team currently in Mongolia. "The best hope forsuccessfully containing the spread of avian flu is focusing our limitedresources on the hubs where humans, livestock and wildlife come intoclose contact."
According to WCS, avian influenza prevention activities should includebetter management practices in farms, especially small open-air farmswhere domestic poultry and waterfowl are allowed to intermingle withwild birds. Wildlife markets--where wild and domesticated species arekept in close proximity--are also hubs of transmission for avian fluand other pathogens that need to be better regulated. Wildlife andhealth experts also maintain that indiscriminate culling of wildmigratory bird populations would be ineffective in preventing thespread of the disease.
The outbreak of avian influenza in Mongolia has coincided withconfirmations of cases in Russia and Kazakhstan. The initial reports ofavian influenza came from the Mongolian Ministry of Food andAgriculture, which conducted preliminary testing of birds that died atErkhel Lake in the Kovsgol province near the Russian border.
A joint WCS-Mongolia team that was working in western Mongoliaimmediately went to the site to collect more samples that will be sentto the United States Department of Agriculture for further testing todetermine the strain. These tests will determine if the virus is theH5N1 strain that has killed over 50 people in Southeast Asia and morethan 5000 wild birds in western China.
The team, in an unprecedented, international multidisciplinary effort,includes members of WCS, the Mongolian National Academy of Sciences,the Mongolian Institute of Veterinary Medicine, the State CentralVeterinary Laboratory, Ministry of Food and Agriculture VeterinaryDepartment, and the Ministry of Health Mongolian Center of CommunicableDiseases with Natural Foci.
"The Mongolian governmental agencies working on this are to becommended for keeping the international community informed on thisimportant health issue," said Dr. Robert Cook, WCS Chief Veterinarian."This is the type of collaborative 'One World, One Health' effort thatis vital in keeping potential epidemics contained."
In light of the recent outbreaks of avian flu in other regions,WCS proposed and with the United Nations Food and AgricultureOrganization funded an expedition to Mongolia to examine the role ofwild birds in the spread of avian influenza.
Previously, outbreaks in wild birds have either been in close proximityto infected domestic poultry and waterfowl, or in regions where contactwith domestic poultry could not be excluded. As Mongolia has fewdomestic poultry, finding the H5N1 virus in wild migratory birds herewould indicate that wild birds can become infected and move highlypathogenic avian influenza long distances. "Wild birds are sick anddying, so they may be the victims rather than the vectors of thedisease. Laboratory testing from surviving birds will tell us if theyare able to carry the virus during the migration" explained Dr. Karesh.This information will allow countries in the region to protect humanand domestic animal health by limiting contact with wild birds andincreasing surveillance for the virus on poultry farms.
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