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New Research Links Songbirds to a Deadly Form of the Flu Virus.
Songbirds such as sparrows and thrushes may sing incredibly beautifully, but they are carriers of a wide range of flu viruses. This in itself is not alarming, but as was reported this week by the BioMed Central journal BMC for Infectious Diseases, the flu has mutated in songbirds birds into various forms of the bird flu, all of which could potentially spread to pigs and poultry.
The researchers said that for the time being, the birds carry the less dangerous low-pathogenic bird flu. However, the flu virus swaps genes and can easily mutate into more dangerous forms.
These finding are significant because for a long time it was thought that bird flu only occurred in shorebirds and ducks. Ducks are the main carriers of the flu virus. Such viruses do not make the ducks sick very often, but they suddenly become highly pathogenic when passed to poultry such as chickens and turkey.
In the same way, low-pathogenic viruses rarely make birds sick, but the risk is that the birds can infect pigs, where the new strains of influenza can mix and mutate, and turn into a deadly virus such as that which is responsible for the ongoing H1N1 swine flu.
The researchers came to these conclusions after doing a study on 13,000 birds from 250 different species.
The recent H5N1 bird flu virus has killed or forced the destruction of around 300 million birds. So far in humans, only 500 cases of infection have been documented since 2003, and 296 people have died from it. Statistics from the last few years, however, can be used to make forecasts for the next few years, as no one knows when and where the flu virus will evolve into its next aggressive form, and how able our as a society will be to respond to it.
The big danger is that the flu virus will mutate into a form that could be caught and transmitted easily between human beings. In this worst case scenario the transmission rate may well soar and in the resulting pandemic millions of people could die. For this reason scientists are currently engaged in a large number of research projects aimed at gathering as much data as possible about the carriers of bird flu and how it is spread between different species.
The research team used information from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and discovered that an important contributing factor was intensive farming, which has led to an ever shrinking habitat for wild birds. As a result, the wild birds have congregated into ever smaller areas, and the higher the density of birds, the more opportunity there is for infected birds to transmit the virus.
The information supplied in this article is not to be considered as medical advice and is for educational purposes only.
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