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Migration Routes of Wild Birds May Reveal Early Warnings of Bird Flu Outbreaks

H5N8 virus spread worldwide by long-distance migrants, study finds.

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H5N8 virus spread worldwide by long-distance migrants, study finds.

Following an outbreak among poultry in South Korea in 2014, a subtype of bird flu called H5N8 rapidly spread around the world.

Now, in light of the finding that long-distance migratory birds can help spread of avian flu, published in the latest issue of Science, researchers are arguing that monitoring the migration routes of wild birds could provide early warning of potential bird flu outbreaks.

Certain strains of bird flu are deadly to birds, killing up to 100 percent of those infected within days. Some strains are also known to infect humans.

Looking at the migration patterns and viral genetics of wild birds from 16 different countries that had been infected with the H5N8 virus, the researchers found that the long-distance migrants, via their Arctic breeding grounds, carried the virus from Asia to Europe and North America.

The authors recommend that measures be taken to keep wild birds out of poultry farms. As well, greater surveillance of birds at their breeding sites could offer early detection of flu viruses that could potentially spread to birds and people, they say.

Lead author Samantha Lycett, of the University of Edinburgh's Roslin Institute, said in a press release: “Our findings show that with good surveillance, rapid data sharing and collaboration, we can track how infections spread across continents."

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