Friday, March 28, 2008

Ducks contributing to bird flu's spread

Chickens aren't the only indicators of where bird flu may occur, new research shows.

Scientists think the combination of rice farming and large populations of ducks are the best ways to predict where bird flu might pop up next. This new evidence, highlighted in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, can guide public health experts as they plan on new and effective ways to prevent future outbreaks of the flu.

Researchers studied three outbreaks between the beginning of 2004 and the end of 2005, and looked at duck, human and chicken populations in certain areas of Southeast Asia as well as elevation and the amount of rice crops. Tracking both the duck populations for the H5N1 avian flu virus and rice paddies by satellite turned out to be the best way to determine where outbreaks might occur next. The outbreaks were found in areas where rice is farmed two or three times each year. In Thailand and Vietnam, chickens were not even close to being predictors of where the H5N1 virus was present, because it usually kills them before they can even spread it, the research noted.

With hope, there will be more research about the link between ducks and bird flu. For now, researchers are going to begin to design maps in other Southeast Asian countries to identify areas where flu outbreaks are the most likely to occur.

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