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Bird-Flu Viruses Are Discovered In Two Wild Swans in Michigan
posted by admin on 15/08/06

Viruses could mutate quickly into the deadly virus that has killed birds and people in Asia.

By JANE ZHANG
August 15, 2006

WASHINGTON -- Bird-flu viruses were detected in two wild swans found in Michigan. Officials said that while the viruses don't appear to be dangerous to humans, they belong to groups that could mutate quickly into the deadly virus that has killed birds and people in Asia.

The viruses -- containing both the H5 and N1 proteins -- were discovered in two of 20 birds killed Aug. 8 by state game officials to help control burgeoning numbers of mute swans, which have reproduced heavily since their introduction around Lake Erie. The birds showed no signs of sickness and were tested through routine sampling, according to Agriculture and Interior department officials.

Genetic testing suggests that the viruses found are similar to a low-pathogenic H5N1 strain found among wild birds in North America, with little human health concern, said Ron DeHaven, administrator of the Agriculture Department's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Government scientists are conducting a confirmatory test.

While that confirmation test won't be completed for two weeks, Dr. DeHaven ruled out that the birds were infected with a more deadly strain of the H5N1 virus that has stirred intense concern world-wide. But even if it turns out to be a low-pathogenic form of the H5N1 strain, it still needs to be monitored because it has the potential to mutate quickly into a more deadly form.

Since late 2003, the deadly H5N1 virus has wreaked havoc among poultry in Asia and Europe and killed at least 139 people world-wide. Most of the victims had close contact with sick birds or their droppings.

Health officials have feared that the highly pathogenic H5N1 virus might mutate into a strain that could easily spread from human to human and trigger a pandemic. That would threaten public health and put strains on the U.S. poultry industry, global travel and other businesses.

Scientists and U.S. officials have said the deadly virus could spread to birds in North America as early as this year. Since June, the U.S. government has tested 8,000 migratory-bird samples, half with the help of hunters in Alaska and half live birds with a migratory history to Asia, said Sue Haseltine, associate director for biology at the U.S. Geological Survey. Fewer than 2% of them were found with any bird-flu virus, which is "about standard," she said.

Even the low-pathogenic H5N1 bird flu can infect wild birds and domestic poultry, such as chickens, turkeys and ducks. If the two samples are confirmed to be a low-pathogenic H5N1 virus, it would mark that virus's return to the U.S. after 20 years.

A spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the agency isn't concerned about human infection at this point. Other government officials and the poultry industry agreed and said poultry is safe to eat.

---- Betsy McKay in Atlanta contributed to this article.

Write to Jane Zhang at Jane.Zhang@wsj.com

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