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Wildlife officials to check Va. birds for avian flu
posted by admin on 19/07/06
Virginia News, July 18, 2006
RICHMOND, Va. -- State and federal wildlife officials plan to check for avian influenza in birds that flock to Virginia's waterways.
About 800 waterfowl and about 800 shorebirds will be tested, starting with mute swans in August. The testing area mostly will be around the Eastern Shore, the Chesapeake Bay and rivers in eastern Virginia.
The samples will join a federal database that by the end of the year will number roughly 100,000, gathered by universities, private organizations, and state and federal agencies, including the departments of Interior and Agriculture.
"The resident mute swans are a good one to look at because they are highly susceptible," said ornithologist Dan Cristol of the College of William and Mary. "If one turns up positive, we will know that a migratory species brought it in and transferred it to a resident."
Virginia and other states are implementing wildlife-surveillance plans for avian influenza in addition to their public health preparations for any pandemic human flu.
Virginia's diverse wetlands make the state a key autumn destination for birds heading south, and that's one reason the state is considered a primary sampling site, according to Bob Ellis, assistant director of the wildlife division for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. Ellis led development of Virginia's plan, which will extend through the fall.
Since 2003, the H5N1 virus has killed more than 100 people and millions of birds worldwide, sparking fears that the virus could mutate into a pandemic influenza.
Dozens of species of wild birds as well as domestic poultry have been hit by bird flu. So far, officials know of no U.S. bird infected by the H5N1 virus, nor has anyone in the country been sickened by it.
Federal officials this summer are monitoring Alaska and the Pacific Northwest as the likeliest region for H5N1's entry from Asia into the United States. In Alaska alone, the U.S. Geological Survey has 50 camps to take samples from 27 species of shorebirds and waterfowl, said Paul Slota, who oversees laboratory testing of the samples at the National Wildlife Center.
But the virus also could come via the Atlantic Flyway, which stretches from Greenland to Canada and south through Virginia to Florida and Puerto Rico. American birds summering in Greenland mix with those migrating from Africa and Europe, where avian flu already exists.
Experts said the first infected birds could show up along the East Coast as soon as late August or September.
By then, game and wildlife officials will have fanned out along eastern Virginia's waterways. In some cases they will be capturing live waterfowl but more often seeking out birds harvested by hunters along the Chesapeake Bay and inland waterways.
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