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What criteria are used by DEFRA to identify sites for testing for the H5N1 virus

Avian Influenza: Testing

Mr. Peter Ainsworth: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what criteria he uses to identify sites for testing for the H5N1 virus; and if he will make a statement. [179931]

22 Jan 2008 : Column 1971W

Jonathan Shaw [holding answer 17 January 2008]: Surveillance for avian influenza focuses on species of wild birds that experts believe to have a greater potential role in the spread of avian influenza viruses including ducks, geese, swans, gulls and waders. Sampling is targeted as much as possible to areas where there is an abundance of these species and domestic poultry. The aim is to focus on areas where an introduction of HPAI H5N1 would be more likely to be detected and to areas where an introduction may have more significance to poultry health. More than 6,000 birds were tested last year alone. The numbers of birds tested is in part dependent on the numbers of birds found dead by regular patrols of certain wetland reserves or reported by the public. There have been over 2,000 patrols undertaken since the start of this migration period in September/October at over 200 sites. The number of dead birds can be lower during a milder year. No cuts have been made to active patrolling or testing and in some areas patrolling has been increased due to national and international avian influenza incidents. Samples are also collected from live caught birds at several wetland sites throughout the UK and birds shot through normal wildfowling.

We adopt a partnership approach to such surveillance with over 20 organisations which own sites where testing takes place. These include the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the British Trust for Ornithology, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Natural England, Scottish Natural Heritage, the Countryside Council for Wales, the Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts and local authorities.

Additionally a separate survey takes place across the whole of the UK to monitor any unusually high levels of mortality in wild birds of any species. We also test a random sample of poultry premises from across the UK. During an outbreak, we enhance the level of surveillance that takes place in the surrounding area based on expert ornithological advice.


"Good question," writes an emailer (in response to a question from ) " but itís a pity Peter Ainsworth didnít go further."


Are there any independent and/or international experts providing advice on the surveillance strategy?

Who is on the AI Expert Group?

Questions to Defra remain unanswered and even unacknowledged. There is also a potential conflict of interest with regard to the wildlife representatives, as they are quite understandably interested in protecting wildlife. It is therefore all the more important to have a balanced expert group that includes independent epidemiologists.

 It seems a waste of effort to concentrate so heavily on dead wild birds. You only find the large easily spotted birds like white swans, not the small birds that will disappear within minutes (there was one experiment that verified this), and can be eaten by predators (birds, cats, rats) that are apparently not tested for H5N1.

It would make much more sense to test apparently healthy wild ducks and geese, including fecal and muddy water samples, but especially apparently healthy domestic ducks and geese (especially those kept where they can mingle with wild birds or where they are near to intensive poultry sheds with known biosecurity failures).

 For human health protection, they should be focusing on small scale keepers, and these are precisely the keepers that Defra are ignoring, except when there is an outbreak and they go round by foot on patrols to ask if anyone keeps birds!

 For a hint of the complexity that Defra appears to ignore, see ProMED-mailís posting,F2400_P1001_PUB_MAIL_ID:1000,41039


(3) Indonesia - swallows as vectors

Date: Thu 24 Jan 2008

From: A correspondent in Indonesia (name withheld) [edited]


Re: Swallows as vectors


I was interested to read that the history of the recent patient in Tangerang was being investigated with testing for swallow and chicken vectors [see Avian influenza, human (14): Indonesia  20080123.027].


I am a physician working in Indonesia, site of [one of the human cases] of avian influenza. [Identification of the source of this case's infection was ongoing and included investigation into a large swallow farm in close proximity to the case's house. - Mods.CP/MPP].

There was a lot of press speculation regarding swallows as vectors at the time and the testing was centered around testing live swallows only. These came out negative.


The investigation fell short and initially did not include testing of the geese in the area. The community was in a panic and began burning tires to scare away the swallows being raised in a village building for their nests. Large crowds gathered around the area for days in protest. Later testing of the geese (burung angsa) showed that all 8 of them tested positive for the virus and they were then removed and killed, without any manifestation of disease. It is a shame that further follow up on this data was not sent to ProMED-mail, but seemed to follow the momentum of the community. There is a quickness to reach a cause or diagnosis, then stick to that despite data to the contrary.



A correspondent in Indonesia (name withheld)..."