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The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations health agency has warned of the possible emergence of an avian influenza strain capable of sparking a deadly global human pandemic and has also urged countries in Asia not to cull wild birds in response to recent outbreaks of avian influenza in China, Thailand and Vietnam.
Killing wild birds will not help to prevent or control avian influenza outbreaks, said Juan Lubroth of the FAO Animal Health Service. Wild birds are an important element of the ecosystem and should not be destroyed. Although it is recognized that certain species of water fowl can be a reservoir of avian influenza viruses, to date, there is no scientific evidence that wildlife is the major factor in the resurgence of the disease in the region, he added.
While these outbreaks thus far remain restricted to poultry populations, they nevertheless increase the chances of virus transmission and human infection of the disease, the Geneva-based World Health Organization (WHO) said of the new cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 reported in China, Thailand and Vietnam.
The same virus killed 22 people in Thailand and Vietnam earlier this year when more than 100 million birds died or were culled in at least nine countries across Southern and Eastern Asia.
WHO re-emphasized the need to protect individuals involved in culling infected poultry by giving them proper equipment, including protective clothing, masks and goggles, since there is a high risk of exposure during the slaughtering process.
Hunting wild birds, some of which are listed as endangered, or cutting down trees to destroy roosting sites, is likely to disperse wild birds into new areas, stress them further and could make them susceptible to avian influenza or other diseases, said William Karesh of the Wildlife Conservation Society, based in New York. Improved poultry coops and biosecurity measures to keep farm poultry, including ducks, from coming into contact with free-flying fowl can diminish the risk of disease spread.
The risk of emergence of a new human pandemic virus will remain as long as the avian influenza virus exists in the environment. WHOs concern and activities continue at a high level following recent reports. Because the H5N1 threat is unlikely to be resolved in the short term, WHO is working with other international agencies, including the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), and World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), to monitor events.
Source: United Nations Health Agency