Mild H5 flu virus found in Montana ducks

Sep 22, 2006 (CIDRAP News) – Wild ducks in Montana were found to be carrying what may be an H5N1 avian influenza virus, but not the lethal Asian strain of H5N1, US officials announced yesterday.

Viruses containing H5 and N1 surface proteins (hemagglutinin and neuraminidase) were found in samples from healthy northern pintail ducks in west-central Montana's Cascade County, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of the Interior said in a news release.

"Initial tests confirm that these samples do not contain the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain that has spread through birds in Asia, Europe and Africa," the statement said.

A Colorado State University laboratory tested 66 samples taken from the ducks and sent 16 samples on to the USDA's national laboratory in Ames, Iowa, for further testing. One of 16 samples tested positive for both H5 and N1, but that doesn't necessarily mean an H5N1 virus is present, officials said. It could point to two different viruses, one containing H5 and another containing N1.

Confirmatory testing in Ames will identify the virus subtypes and their level of pathogenicity, the agencies said. The testing should be completed in 2 to 3 weeks.

Montana wildlife officials said the samples were collected Sep 15 at Benton Lake, near Great Falls, during routine research on the movements of migratory birds, according to an Associated Press report.

Low-pathogenic flu viruses are common in wild birds and typically cause only minor illness or none. Federal officials reported finding the mild "North American strain" of H5N1 in some Maryland ducks and Michigan swans in August.

Northern pintail ducks are among hunted species, but there is no known health risk to hunters or hunting dogs from contact with low-pathogenic avian flu viruses, federal officials said.

In other avian flu news, the World Bank today announced a $13 million grant to minimize the threat to humans from avian flu in the West Bank and Gaza strip. The disease struck poultry at eight sites in Gaza last April.

"These grants will assist the PA [Palestinian Authority] to improve their readiness and protect their citizens from a potentially devastating outbreak as the [bird] migration season is around the corner," Arif Zulfiqar of the World Bank said in a news release.

The money includes $3 million from the World Bank's Avian and Human Influenza Facility, a multidonor financing mechanism, and $10 million from the bank's own resources, officials said.

In other developments, the European Union (EU) and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have launched a study of avian flu in Nigeria, according to an Agence France-Presse report yesterday.

In cooperation with the Nigerian agriculture ministry, the FAO will study the incidence, spread, and impact of H5N1 avian flu in the hope of eradicating it in Nigeria, according to the report.

Avian flu first cropped up in Nigeria last February and has since been found in about 13 states and the capital city, the story said. The FAO study will cost $667,000 and will be funded by the EU.

Also yesterday, Randall L. Tobias, head of the US Agency for International Development (USAID), said the US has provided a total of $191 million in foreign aid to combat avian flu.

USAID has sent 93,000 personal protective equipment kits to 66 countries this year and is building a stockpile of 1.5 million protective kits, 100 lab kits, and $15,000 decontamination kits for use by surveillance and outbreak-response workers, Tobias said.

He said the United States also is training first responders in how to use protective equipment, collect and ship samples, detect disease, and provide emergency response.

See also:

USDA-DOI news release on avian flu in Montana ducks

Sep 22 World Bank announcement

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