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Sunday, October 23, 2005

Bird Flu Kills Quarantined Parrot in Britain - New York Times

Bird Flu Kills Quarantined Parrot in Britain - New York TimesOctober 23, 2005
Bird Flu Kills Quarantined Parrot in Britain
By ELISABETH ROSENTHAL

PARIS, Oct. 23 - A new case of bird flu in an exotic parrot under quarantine in Britain has underscored the many routes by which the dreaded animal virus can be passed around the world, and brought renewed calls for more aggressive measures to prevent its spread.

The exotic parrot, imported from Suriname, died in British quarantine, so there is no chance that it introduced the disease to England, British veterinary experts said.

An announcement from the department of Britain's Department of Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs confirmed today that the bird had died of the deadly H5N1 strain, which has ravaged poultry farms in Asia and has recently turned up among migratory birds in parts of southern Europe.

The H5N1 virus infects many wild birds in Asia, including some parrots that are sought as pets, and it can certainly be spread by the trade in exotic birds, as it has been in commercial poultry markets, said Joseph Domenech, head of veterinary services at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome.

Scientists are even more concerned that the dead parrot came from South America, a part of the world not known to harbor the deadly strain.

But British veterinary officials said they suspected that the parrot had been infected while in a British quarantine facility, where it shared space with birds that had come from Taiwan.

While regulations to prevent the spread of the disease have focused on poultry, health officials have long warned that shipments of exotic birds and cockfighting arenas also provide settings for virus transmission, because birds are kept in close quarters.

``Everything has to be done to find out exactly where the virus came from, since it would be a big surprise to find it in South America," Dr. Domenech said.

There are a number of strains of bird flu, and the others are not nearly as deadly as H5N1. Although the animal virus does not now readily infect humans, or spread easily among them, the World Health Organization has warned that it might acquire that ability through natural processes.

Such a change in this highly pathogenic virus could set off a devastating worldwide influenza epidemic, they warn. In the hundred or so cases in which humans are known to have caught bird flu through close contact with birds. the virus has killed half of those infected.

H5N1 was for years limited to Southeast Asia, after first turning up at bird markets in Hong Kong in 1997. But this summer it has expanded its range and proved a more elusive enemy, carried by migrating birds to northern and western parts of China, Russia, Turkey and the Balkans.

The bird died of a subtype of the H5N1 virus similar to that sometimes observed in China, and somewhat different than the subtype that has killed birds in the Balkans in recent weeks, British veterinary officials said.

This suggests that the parrot caught the disease from the Taiwanese birds in quarantine, rather than from migratory fowl.

This weekend, Croatia reported its first cases of bird flu in six swans.

Russia and China both reported new outbreaks, and bird culls were under way in the affected areas to stamp out the disease.

With outbreaks popping up along bird migration routes, European officials are taking new precautions to limit the spread of the virus and to protect domestic poultry populations.

The British junior environment minister, Ben Bradshaw, called on Saturday for the European Union to ban live imports of bird from anywhere in the world. The Union already bans the importing of poultry and feathers from affected countries.

This weekend, Austria joined Holland in mandating that domestic poultry be housed in enclosed areas to prevent their contact with migrating animals that might carry H5N1.

The precaution makes it doubtful that birds from these countries can be labeled ``free range" anymore.

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