Friday, March 10, 2006

Reality Takes Wing: Viewpoint

Vested interests mean wild birds are being blamed for the spread of avian flu, argues Dr Leon Bennun in this week's Green Room, whereas responsibility really lies with modern farming. [...]

If wild birds had been spreading the disease across continents there would have been trails of outbreaks following migration routes; but this hasn't happened.

The "wild bird" theory for the spread of H5N1 also provides no explanation as to why certain countries on flight paths of birds from Asia remain flu-free, whilst their neighbours suffer repeated infections. [...]

For this and other reasons, the role of migratory wild birds in the transmission of the disease has been exaggerated, and further sensationalised in the press.

In some countries there has been a backlash against bird conservation, leading to calls for the culling of whole populations, draining of wetlands and destruction of nesting sites.

In fact, H5N1 outbreaks in wild birds have so far mostly burned themselves out without culls or other human interventions.

Some of the world's most threatened birds may be put at risk. But there is also the near-certainty of damage to ecosystem services on which people and economies depend.

Alarmingly for those who fear a human bird flu epidemic, such a distorted picture also means that the right questions are not being asked, and the most effective protection measures may not be undertaken.

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