How far wild birds are to blame for spreading highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), or bird flu, will be the key issue at a scientific conference organized here on May 30-31 by FAO and OIE, the World Organisation for Animal Health.
Some 300 scientists from over 100 nations will attend the two-day meeting to try to shed light on one of the most controversial aspects of the H5N1 crisis: just what is the role played by wild birds, as against domestic poultry, in propagating bird flu.
The FAO and OIE International Scientific Conference on Avian Influenza and Wild Birds will also discuss such issues as the ecology and virology of HPAI, surveillance, risk analysis and disease management.
But almost three years after HPAI first broke out in Southeast Asia, scientists are still searching for a vital piece of the puzzle as they strive to check the disease. While it has been demonstrated that migrating birds can carry the virus over long distances – in Siberia, Eastern and Western Europe for example – it is not clear where the infection originated. However, most scientists point the finger at domestic fowl.
Since the first outbreaks of HPAI in Southeast Asia at the end of 2003, H5N1 has killed 124 humans, nearly all of them infected by domestic fowl. Over 200 million poultry have died of the disease or have had to be culled so far.