H5N1 confirmed in Mongolia, ruled out in Finland

Aug 30, 2005 (CIDRAP News) – Mongolian officials said tests have detected an H5N1 avian influenza virus in several wild birds, confirming earlier indications that the virus had reached the central Asian country.

One bar-headed goose and three whooper swans from Erhel Lake tested positive for H5N1, a Mongolian official said in an Aug 27 report to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). Hokkaido University in Japan ran the tests, and Dooloojin Orgil, director of Mongolia's Department of Veterinary Service, reported the results.

Mongolian officials told the OIE on Aug 19 that an H5 virus had been found in three wild birds. About the same time, preliminary testing by the US Department of Agriculture detected an H5N1 virus in 1 of about 100 birds found dead at Erhel Lake.

The virus's appearance in Mongolia follows its emergence in parts of Siberian Russia and Kazakhstan in recent weeks. Last spring the virus killed several thousand birds in the Qinghai Lake wildlife refuge in north-central China, which borders Mongolia on the south.

Findings in Finland and Russia
Elsewhere, tests on a seagull in Finland have shown that the bird had a mild form of avian flu, not H5N1, according to a Bloomberg News report yesterday. The report of the suspected avian flu in gulls in northern Finland late last week came amid fears that H5N1 avian flu could spread to Europe from Russia.

Philip Tod, a spokesman for the European Commission in Brussels, said yesterday that the seagull had a low-pathogenic strain of flu that is commonly found in wild birds, according to the Bloomberg report. Tod said Finland's chief veterinary officer had reported the results.

In Russia, avian flu has spread to another village in the Tyumen region in southwestern Siberia, east of the Ural Mountains, according to a report from the Russian news agency RIA Novosti. The report said 57 infected birds were slaughtered in the village of Sladkovo.

The disease was reported previously in seven other settlements in the region, after surfacing there on Jul 26, the story said.

OIE urges increased control effort
Also today, the OIE renewed its call for efforts to control avian flu in poultry populations and appealed for funds to help affected countries with those efforts. The statement referred to recommendations made at an international conference in Malaysia in early July.

In the wake of avian flu's emergence in Russia and Kazakhstan, the statement said, "The OIE recalls the necessity of intensifying the fight against the disease at its source—that is in the avian production plants in contaminated countries. This represents the best way of limiting the spread of the disease, of eradicating it, and of reducing the risk" that it will lead to a flu pandemic.

In appealing to the world to help affected countries battle avian flu, the OIE did not say how much money has been contributed since the Malaysia conference. After the conference, officials estimated it would cost about $250 million to implement recommendations to educate small-scale poultry farmers, segregate animal species on backyard farms, and vaccinate poultry.

The OIE also said it would send a team of experts to Kazakhstan to provide technical assistance next week, at that country's request.

Bird monitoring in Alaska
In other news, wildlife specialists have begun monitoring migratory birds in Alaska to see if any of them are spreading avian flu from Asia, according to a Reuters report published today.

Biologists working with the US Geological Survey and US Fish and Wildlife Service have already checked two species of geese in parts of Alaska and found no signs of the H5N1 virus, the report said. Further plans call for testing ducks in various parts of the state.

Hon Ip, a virologist at a USGS lab in Madison, Wis., was quoted as saying, "We think that Alaska is likely to be the front line."

He said some birds cross the Pacific from Southeast Asia to the US West Coast, and there is concern that some could stop off in Guam or Hawaii and spread the virus there.

See also:

Mongolian report to OIE

Aug 29 OIE statement

Jul 7, 2005, CIDRAP News story "Avian flu control plan to focus on small farms"

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