What seemed pretty obvious at first, that wild birds could be and were long distance carriers of H5N1 is, like the birds themselves, still up in the air. The problem is that existing data on migrating wild birds has failed to show convincing evidence they are infected:
FAO officials last year voiced concerns that bird migration patterns might have spread disease Asia and Europe to Africa. But as elsewhere in the world, very few cases have been found among wild birds in Africa.
The Wildlife Conservation Society Field Veterinary Program Director William Karesh is among those attending the meeting in Bangkok.
“We tested thousands of birds in Africa, in Nigeria, in that area, and we cannot find a wild bird with the disease. [That] Does not mean it cannot occasionally get into them, but it is probably not going to go anywhere. It is a dead end,” he said. (Voice of America via HuliQ.com)
Maybe. Maybe not. The bird conservation community knows a lot about the subject but they aren’t exactly uninvolved observers.
Scott Newman, the FAO’s international wildlife coordinator, says the aim is to identify what countries need what kind of support and training to improve their surveillance of wild birds.
“We are hearing that wild birds have not been found to be positive if they are healthy, free-ranging birds. We are hearing, though, that dead wild birds are being found in various countries and they are confirmed positive for H5N1 avian influenza,” said Newman. “So, from a surveillance standpoint, some countries are doing healthy wild-bird surveillance. Others are just collecting dead birds and looking for disease. And so there is a range of surveillance activities and monitoring that are happening.”
There is no way to do this except to actually collect the data systematically. You can’t just figure it out. That means investing in an operating wildllife surveillance system. Until we have one, we are guessing.
Maybe we will guess right. But maybe not. And this is important information.