Migratory Geese Goosed By Bird Flu
An outbreak of H5N1 virus (bird flu) in western China among migratory birds has sounded alarms worldwide fueling the fear that the virus is about to go global.
More than 6,000 wild birds at the Qinghai Lake reserve in China have died since early May, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Most of them were bar-headed geese, a breed of goose that migrates south to Myanmar and India in autumn.
Qinghai Lake serves as a major breeding ground for migrant birds from all over Asia and the Pacific, including Southeast Asia, Siberia, Australia, and New Zealand.
Until now the virus was limited to poultry farms and the wild birds near them. That it has spread to migrating waterfowl signals to many scientists that it now has global threat potential.
“This outbreak may help to spread the virus over and beyond the Himalayas,” said researchers at the Joint Influenza Research Center at Hong Kong University and Shantou University Medical College in Shantou, China.
The virus has only been seen in China and nearby countries, geese and other breeds could spread it all over the continent into Europe, Indonesia, and the Pacific.
The H5N1 virus has already mutated to some extent, having at one time not been lethal to migratory birds. The development intensifies the concern about a possible mutation that could easily infect and spread among humans.
“Unlike most instances, this virus is showing lethality for migratory birds,” the University of Virginia’s virologist Frederick Hayden told USA Today. “It’s a very concerning development.”
Chief Veterinary Officer Joseph Domenech of FAO issued statement favoring surveillance and vaccination efforts to contain the disease rather than culling wild birds.
More than 25 million chickens have been slaughtered in Asia in an attempt to quell the spread of the virus. One hundred people have been infected.