Date: Thu, 31 May 2006
Source: EU press release IP/06/704, 31 May 2006 [edited]
The European Commission and the Community Reference Laboratory (CRL) for Avian Influenza in Weybridge have published the results of the surveillance for avian influenza in wild birds carried out in the EU over the past 10 months. The extensive epidemiological data were presented today [31 May 2006] at the FAO/OIE International Scientific Conference on Avian Influenza and Wild Birds, which is taking place in Rome this week.
Although final figures are still being collected for February-May 2006, it is estimated that around 60 000 wild birds were tested for avian influenza in the EU during that period. This, combined with the 39 000 wild birds tested between July 2005-January 2006, means that almost 100 000 tests for the H5N1 virus have been carried out on wild birds over the past 10 months. Since February 2006, over 700 wild birds across 13 Member States have been found to be infected with the H5N1 “Asian strain” of avian influenza. However, a positive decline in the incidence of the disease in wild birds in Europe has also been noted over the past weeks.
Between February 2006 and 21 May 2006, 741 cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza (most of them confirmed as H5N1) have been detected in wild birds in 13 Member States — Greece, Italy, Slovenia, Hungary, Austria, Germany, France, Slovakia, Sweden, Poland, Denmark, Czech Republic and UK. There have been only 4 outbreaks of H5N1 avian influenza in poultry in the EU, and all of these were swiftly eradicated following detection. No human case of the H5N1 virus has occurred in the EU.
There is considerable variation in the number of cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza in wild birds, ranging from 326 in Germany to 1 in the UK. The peak in terms of the number of cases in wild birds was reached in March with 362 cases (compared to 200 in February), with cases declining to 162 in April and 17 in May. The most commonly affected wild birds have been swans,  representing 62.8 percent of the total, followed by  ducks (16.3 percent),  geese (4.5 percent),  birds of prey (3.9 percent) and  others (13 percent)….
[This Rome conference will generate a number of interesting papers. Taking the above data at face value, the prevalence of infected wild birds was 741/39 000 or 1.9 percent. Some have suggested that swans are victims, not contributors to the spread of H5N1. If so, the wild bird infection prevalence then falls below 1 percent. – Mod.MHJ]
“Wild bird role in flu ‘unclear’
By Matt McGrath, Science reporter, BBC News, Rome
The role of swans and other wild birds in spreading bird flu is still unclear and uncertain, according to scientists.
Many of the assumptions being made about the part played in the spread of the disease by wild birds simply do not stand up to analysis, they say.”
Poultry vaccination and a greater emphasis on Africa were also called for by the delegates….
“We shouldn’t just assume that it’s a few species of ducks and the swans that are the risk species. Certainly we have to look at those, but we need to keep a broad open mind on this one.” Dr Brown said that swans were interesting indicators of the presence of the disease, but their role in spreading it was less clear.
“We have to be careful that just because we see dead swans and we find the virus in them that they’re the answer to why the virus is spreading,” he said….
“The global poultry industry is the main spreader of H5N1, but migratory birds have certainly played a role. A main issue in my mind is the use of vaccines at agricultural level to control this thing,” he said…. “The wealthy countries can afford to cull their infected birds. The poorer simply can’t. The science allows us to make superb vaccines for poultry – let’s use them for God’s sake.”…
“This is something we may have here for many years and we may have to live with it.”