Wild birds and avian influenza

The outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza between 2003-2006 have had considerable impacts on people's livelihoods, international commerce of poultry and poultry products, and have killed an unprecedented number of wilds birds ranging from Bar-headed Geese in Asia to Mute Swans in Europe.The geographical spread of avian influenza from Asia to the Middle East, Europe and parts of Africa is considered to be mainly due to poultry production, improper hygiene and trade, including illegal trade. This includes the movements of domestic and wild animals or contaminated products, cages and other equipment and people wearing contaminated clothes.

Spreading the virus

While globalization and international trade are major factors in the spread of the virus from one country or region to another, wild birds are also playing a role in spreading the virus. Wild birds normally can carry avian influenza viruses in their respiratory or intestinal tracts, but most of the species usually do not get sick.The exact role of wild birds in spreading the H5N1 virus over long distances is still not fully understood.Generally, there are many uncertainties about the species involved, the migratory routes used and, above all, the possibility that some species could become permanent reservoirs of the H5N1 virus, with carriers showing no clinical signs of the disease. Those wild bird species that quickly succumb to H5N1 infection are likely not to be reservoirs, but may still be a source of virus to others. There is an urgent need for long-term investment in wild bird monitoring and research that helps to better understand wild bird behavior, precise migratory routes, resting sites and the interactions between wildlife, livestock and humans.FAO, in close collaboration with UNEP, Wetlands International, the Wildlife Conservation Society and others is working on wild bird monitoring and capacity building for wildlife biologists in Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe.

Don't destroy wild birds

There is no scientific justification for the destruction of wild birds or their habitats in an effort to control, manage, or prevent possible introduction of H5N1 from wild birds to domestic birds. The destruction of wild birds would contribute to environmental degradation and reduce biodiversity.Instead, efforts must be placed on a rapid response to H5N1 outbreaks in poultry, decreasing the viral load of infected poultry, preventing healthy flocks from being exposed to the disease, and preventing wild birds from being exposed to potentially infected poultry.Source: FAO