Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Michigan mute swans test positive for bird flu

As reported in The Seattle Times, the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Interior announced Aug. 14 that two wild mute swans in Michigan may have been infected with H5N1 bird flu. Over the next two weeks, tests will be conducted to confirm if they were in fact carrying H5N1, and if so, how severe it was. However, tests have confirmed that the cases are NOT the same H5N1 virus that has caused severe illness and death in poultry and humans around the world, primarily in Asia. Initial testing suggests this is a weaker form of the H5N1 virus, what experts call "low pathogenic." Scientists are not sure yet whether the swans were infected with one H5N1 virus or with two separate bird flu viruses - one containing the H5 protein, the other N1.

The good news is that the U.S. system for tracking and testing birds for bird flu appears to be working. The two swans were tested on Aug. 8 in Monroe County, Mich., on the coast of Lake Erie. Another piece of positive news is that Americans can keep eating chicken and other poultry. As mute swans are not migratory birds, there is no evidence linking these swans to any poultry on commercial farms.

We are not out of the woods, though. Just because this appears to be a weaker form of the H5N1 virus doesn't mean it can't mutate into something much more serious. And, in reality, this is just a preview of what is yet to come, as experts predict that we are rather likely to see the more serious and deadly form of H5N1 in the United States before the end of the year.

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