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Deadly H5N1 bird flu strain reaches the UK

作者:詹对    发布时间:2019-03-02 01:16:05    

By Debora MacKenzie Pet birds from Taiwan were the probable source of the H5N1 bird flu virus that swept through a quarantine facility in the UK last week. Agriculture ministers from the European Union will meet tomorrow in Luxembourg to discuss banning bird imports. But wildlife experts warn this could just drive the trade underground, where it could pose more risk of spreading the virus. Legally imported birds are held in quarantine when they arrive in the EU. Last week birds in one such facility in the UK started dying, first in a consignment of 216 birds from Taiwan, then in one of 148 parrots from Surinam. On Monday morning, UK veterinary authorities announced that one Surinam parrot had the same H5N1 strain that has been circulating in east Asia. Chief veterinarian Debby Reynolds said it probably came from the Taiwanese birds. She said birds and people in the UK are not at risk as both consignments were destroyed. The facility’s staff are taking anti-viral drugs. Eight UK quarantine facilities, holding 2000 birds in total, are now being tested. Taiwan is officially free of H5N1. But last week Taiwanese authorities found eight pet birds carrying the virus in an illegal shipment from China. H5N1 has circulated widely in China. H5N1 had already reached Europe, where it has been confirmed in wild migrating birds in Romania and Turkey. But that virus is slightly different from the east Asian variety found in the quarantined parrot. The strain found in the migrating birds is more similar to that which killed wild birds at Qinghai Lake in north central China earlier in 2005, which is a hybrid of the east Asian virus and one of its immediate ancestors. Unlike the east Asian virus, this strain remains sensitive to the cheapest, most widely available class of flu drugs, the adamantanes. Furthermore, its ability to infect humans is unknown. The east Asian virus is known to have infected at least 118 people and killed 61 of those. On Tuesday, ministers from the EU – the world’s largest legal importer of live birds – will discuss whether to ban all imports. The EU imported 6.7 million birds between 1996 and 2003, according to TRAFFIC, a pressure group that monitors the wildlife trade – that is 78% of the global trade. The group fears any ban could drive the trade underground, where birds will not be quarantined and any infection could escape. Europe has already had one near miss, when a pair of eagles carrying H5N1 were imported illegally from Thailand in 2004, and intercepted at Zaventem Airport in Brussels, Belgium. There are plenty of illegal bird traders to take over if legal trade is banned, TRAFFIC’s Alexandre Assres told New Scientist. For example, 4000 illegal live animals, including parrots, have already been intercepted at Frankfurt Airport in 2005 alone. “If legal imports are banned tomorrow,” says Assre:

 

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