Colin Parrish, John M. Olin Professor of Virology at the Baker Institute for Animal Health in Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine, an expert on influenza viruses and the spread of the virus in animals, says the highly pathogenic influenza strain currently infecting wild birds and domestic poultry in several European countries could be transmitted to birds in North America as migratory flyways of some European and North American wild bird species overlap in the northern reaches of Canada.
Parrish says, "The strain circulating among birds in Europe is known as the H5N8 subtype, and this particular virus is a highly pathogenic influenza strain that appears to be readily transferred into poultry flocks and other domesticated birds from wild birds.
"Migratory birds in Europe and in America normally follow separate north-south migratory pathways, and there is normally not much mixing between birds in each region, but there are areas where they come in contact. This virus seems to be quite transmissible, so there's a reasonable possibility that it could be picked up and brought over to the North American flyways. It looks like H5N8 is very effective at transferring from the wild birds into domestic poultry operations, so this is a concern.
"As we can't do anything about bird migration, we have to be really vigilant about the possibility so we can control H5N8 in domestic birds if it arrives. The virus appears to cause severe disease in most birds that it infects, so it is likely that state surveillance would detect it pretty quickly if it were to arrive in North America.
"Influenza is a virus that emerges periodically to cause epidemics in different birds or mammals, like the two types of canine flu we now have in North America and the recent feline influenza outbreak in New York City. We need to stay on top of it. We can't let down our guard."
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