Avian flu infects stone marten in Germany

Mar 10, 2006 (CIDRAP News) – The H5N1 avian influenza again demonstrated its adaptability by infecting a weasel-like mammal in Germany called a stone marten, according to reports from Germany yesterday.

The marten was found alive but sick Mar 2 on the Baltic island of Ruegen, where three domestic cats were previously found infected with the virus, according to a World Health Organization (WHO) statement.

The animal was euthanized, and tests at the Friedrich Loeffler Institute for Animal Health confirmed H5N1 infection, the WHO said. It was the first known case of avian flu in a stone marten.

The marten was found in the same area of the island where the three cats had been found, the WHO reported. Like the cats, the marten is assumed to have picked up the virus by eating an infected bird. The agency said German authorities have found 125 infected wild swans, ducks, geese, and birds of prey on Ruegen since Feb 16.

"Further investigation is needed to determine whether evidence of H5N1 infection in new mammalian species has any significance for the risk of human infection or the potential of this virus to adapt to mammals, including humans," the WHO said.

According to an Associated Press (AP) report, German scientist Erwin Reisinger said the marten case did not show the virus to be changing its means of transmission and therefore did not signal an increased risk for people. But Reisinger, director of the Department of Tropical Medicine at the University of Rostock, also said the news suggests that the disease could spread to more species, such as rats, mice, and swine.

Nine other mammal species besides humans and stone martens have been known to contract H5N1 avian flu, either naturally or in experiments, according to a listing by a moderator for the ProMED-mail listserv. These are the palm civet, domestic cat, cynomolgus macaque, ferret (a relative of the stone marten), New Zealand white rabbit, leopard, tiger, rat, and pig.

In other news, a British laboratory has confirmed that a wild swan found dead in Serbia last week had H5N1 flu, according to an Agence France-Presse (AFP) report published yesterday. The finding confirms a previous report from a Serbian lab.

The swan had been found dead Mar 2 near the Danube River and less than 6 miles from the border with Croatia and Hungary, according to AFP. Serbian officials said earlier this week they had identified the virus in that swan and another one, found on the Drina River.

In India, officials reported yesterday they had finished culling poultry in the area of their first, and so far only, H5N1 outbreak. Authorities told the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) they had killed about 408,000 poultry, both backyard and commercial, in a 10-kilometer zone around the affected farms, near the border between Maharashtra and Gujarat states.

"To date, no further cases of avian influenza have been reported from this area or from any other part of the country," the report said. It added that no human cases have been detected either.

India's outbreak was first reported on Feb 18. In the ensuing days at least 95 local residents were tested for the virus.

The WHO reported yesterday that avian flu in Nigeria had reached 130 farms in 11 of the country's 37 states since the first outbreak was confirmed on Feb 8. The affected areas include seven contiguous states in the northern and central parts of the country, the capital area of Abuja, and three states in the south.

About 450,000 birds have died or been culled since the outbreaks started, the WHO said. Nigerian authorities began paying farmers for lost birds this week, starting in Kano state.

More than 60 Nigerians have been tested for H5N1 infection, with no cases found, the agency reported. It said Nigeria's ability to test animal and human samples has been strengthened with help from the WHO and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In other developments:

  • Two more ducks in Sweden tested positive for a highly pathogenic H5 virus, according to AFP. This type of virus has now been found in 13 ducks in Sweden, but authorities were still awaiting word from a British lab on whether the virus is H5N1, the story said.
  • Authorities in the former Soviet republic of Georgia reported finding nine more swans infected with an H5 virus, according to a report filed with the OIE yesterday. Officials said 1,700 poultry were culled in a 5-kilometer zone around where the swans were found. Georgian authorities first reported finding H5N1 in swans on Feb 24.
  • A joint Indonesian-Japanese company said yesterday it would produce an avian flu vaccine for poultry using reverse genetics technology, according to an AFP report. The company, called IPB Shigeta, has bought rights from US-based MedImmune Inc. to make the vaccine for use in 44 countries, the report said. The concern is a joint venture of Bogor Agricultural University near Jakarta and Japan's Shigeta Animal Pharmaceuticals.

See also:

WHO report on infected stone marten

WHO report on situation in Nigeria

Georgia's report to OIE

India's report to the OIE

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