3 August, 2005

migratory birds and bird flu

In early July, New Scientist carried a warning from Chinese scientist studying migratory birds in Qinghai province.

Thousands of wild birds in north-west China may have been infected by a bird flu virus closely related to the one that has devastated poultry farms in south-east Asia. The birds might carry the virus as far as India, Australia and Europe.

That is the warning from two teams of scientists in China. They report in Nature and Science this week that a massive die-off of birds at Qinghai Lake in north-west China, a major summering spot for migratory waterfowl, is due to H5N1.

The RNA sequence of the Qinghai virus reveals that three of its eight genes are almost identical to those of a virus isolated from a chicken in Shantou in 2003. The other five genes resemble those of viruses found in southern China earlier in 2005, which belong to the “Z genotype” virus circulating across east Asia.

This means the Qinghai virus was not, as first claimed by officials, brought into China from other countries by migrating birds. The bird that started the outbreak might have picked up the virus in southern China or from poultry closer to Qinghai, say Guan and Gao.

The latest issue of New Scientist reports that the Chinese officials are rejecting the research.

The head of the ministry of agriculture’s veterinary bureau, Jia Youling, has rejected research on bird flu published in the journal Nature last week by Yi Guan and his colleagues at the universities of Hong Kong and Shantou.

Ominously, Jia added that Guan’s group did not even go to Qinghai or have permission to do the research, and that his lab does not meet safety standards. Yet Guan’s BSL3 lab complies with international standards, and his team collected samples from Qinghai before the government introduced rules last month saying no one could study dead animals or bird flu, or even report an outbreak of animal disease, without permission. “They are trying to close everyone’s lab,” Guan told reporters.

by @ 1:46 am. Filed under China

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