Immediate Release: October 26, 2005
, American Bird Conservancy, 202/234-7181 ext. 207
Recent outbreaks of the avian influenza
type 'A' virus, known as H5N1 or "avian flu" are
causing worldwide concern. All subtypes of type 'A' influenza
viruses occur naturally in wild birds, particularly waterfowl,
most causing little or no threat to the health of birds or
people. However, H5N1 is an especially virulent and contagious
strain, and was first recorded in domestic poultry in Asia.
It has since spread to some wild birds in Asia and Eastern
Europe. It has also infected more than 100 people and caused
the deaths of 61 of them. Almost all human cases to date have
been transmitted from poultry, and there have been no recorded
instances of transmission from wild birds to humans.
Wild Birds and H5N1
Whereas wild birds may play a role in the spread of this disease,
the early spread through Asia appears to more closely track
the commercial movements of domestic poultry. If migratory
birds were the key factor in its movement, outbreaks could
also have been expected to occur in areas where they have
not yet been recorded, such as the Philippines, Taiwan, and
Australia, which lie along regular migratory pathways for
Asian birds. Nonetheless, recent outbreaks in China, Russia,
and Eastern Europe may be linked to wild bird movements.
Transmission from human to human has only
been recorded in very rare cases, and in those cases the disease
has not progressed past the second individual. Unless the
virus mutates to be readily transmissible from human to human,
the risk of a major human outbreak is low. Most human infections
currently respond to drugs commonly used to treat human influenza
strains, though resistance to those drugs has been recorded
in Vietnam and may become a more significant factor in the
American Bird Conservancy strongly opposes the culling of
wild birds and the draining of wetlands in response to H5N1.
The best science, as well as common sense, indicates that
these actions are impractical, and could even result in an
increase in the spread of the virus by causing birds to disperse
more widely. The World Health Organization and the United
Nations Food and Agriculture Organization have also taken
Effective control of the disease should
instead first focus on the domestic poultry industry, including:
stringent global monitoring programs; immediate culling and
correct disposal of infected flocks; limiting contact between
domestic poultry and wild birds to limit the possible spread
to wild flocks; and restrictions on the movement of domestic
poultry, including banning poultry and other live bird imports
and exports where needed. Because there have been recent records
of cage birds transported in the international pet trade testing
positive for H5N1, a ban on the trade in cage birds should
be implemented to limit the spread of the virus.
ABC also supports efforts to monitor the
spread of the virus in wild birds, as well as research into
any differential effects across species and regions, as well
as gathering more data on the ecological strategy of the virus,
so that H5N1 may be more fully understood and future outbreaks
To date, H5N1 has not been recorded in
North America. The observation of dead wild birds does not
necessarily indicate the arrival of the virus to America,
as bird deaths can be caused by a variety of diseases as well
as other factors such as pesticide poisoning. Large bird die-offs
should be reported to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service so
they can investigate the exact cause. There is no evidence
that feeding of wild birds plays a role in the spread of the
disease, but people should clean bird feeders regularly to
limit the spread of other diseases.
For the latest updates, visit the official
U.S. government Web site for information on pandemic flu and
avian influenza. ABC will continue to monitor the situation
and issue additional advisories if and when new information
comes to light.
Bird Conservancy (ABC) is a U.S.-based 501(c)3 not-for-profit
organization dedicated to conserving wild birds and their
habitats throughout the Americas. ABC is headquartered in
Virginia, with offices in ten states and the District of Columbia.
ABC has more than 300 partner organizations throughout the
Americas, primarily through its leadership roles in the North
American Bird Conservation Initiative, Partners in Flight,
the Bird Conservation Alliance, the National Pesticide Reform
Coalition, and the Alliance for Zero Extinction. ABC was recently
rated one of the best-managed small charities in the U.S.
by the independent group “Charity Navigator,”
and given their highest rating for fiscal management. For
more information, see: www.abcbirds.org.