Study reveals impact of migration routes on global spread of bird flu

Bird flu is a major threat to the health and wellbeing of farmed chickens worldwide with migration routes holding the key to disease spread, according to Scottish scientist, Dr Samantha Lycett.

Based as Roslin Institute, Edinburgh, Dr Lycett, is the lead author of a recent study conducted by the Global Consortium for H5N8 and Related Influenza Viruses, which drew input from scientists across 32 institutions worldwide.

“Our findings show that with good surveillance, rapid data sharing and collaboration, we can track how infections spread across continents,” she said, highlighting a case study example in which the impact of an early 2014 H5N8 outbreak was tracked from South Korea to follow-on outbreaks in Japan, North America and Europe, running through to autumn 2014 and spring 2015.

Scientists across the world analysed migration patterns for wild birds that were found to be infected with the virus, comparing the genetic code of viruses isolated from infected birds collected from 16 different countries. Their findings revealed that H5N8 was most likely carried by long-distance flights of infected migrating wild birds from Asia to Europe and North America via their breeding grounds in the Arctic.

The study’s conclusion reinforces the importance of maintaining strict exclusion areas around poultry farms to keep wild birds out.

It also stated that greater surveillance of wild birds at known breeding areas could help to provide early warning of threats of specific flu virus strains to birds and people.

The study was funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, COMPARE.

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