News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: Bird Flu: The Rats Have It

Friday, February 16, 2007

Bird Flu: The Rats Have It

I haven't kept up on this story, after running with it several weeks last year and even starting a blog. Scientists are looking for it to explode in the Spring, much as it did last year when it raced across Europe in a month or two. The US is expected to experience its first cases of the virus this Spring.

The following story comes out of Japan:

Scientists suspect rats spread the recent outbreaks of avian flu at four farms in Miyazaki and Okayama prefectures after the H5N1 virus strain was brought over by migratory birds from China.

The experts agree that the migratory birds triggered the infections at the four poultry farms over the past month. But they said at a meeting Wednesday that the way the disease spread indicates that other factors were involved.

Inspectors found that nets and coverings were in place to prevent large migratory birds from coming into contact with the poultry.

In addition, dead chickens at three of the farms were found in areas farthest from the entrance of the coops, so the wild birds were not likely the direct source of the infection.

"It's possible that small rodents, such as rats, carried the virus into the chicken coops," said Toshihiro Ito, a professor of veterinary microbiology at Tottori University who chairs the team of specialists.

He said the rats were likely infected by the wild birds from China. ...

As to whether the virus might mutate into one that affects humans, Nobuhiko Okabe, director of the Infectious Disease Surveillance Center of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, said, "While there is no need to become overly concerned, we also cannot let our guard down."

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