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Healthy Ducks May Be Spreading Bird Flu

Apparently Healthy Ducks May Pose New Risk In Spread Of Deadly Bird Flu - UN

Domestic ducks without symptoms may be acting as a silent reservoir for a potentially deadly strain of bird flu that could be transmitted to humans, United Nations agencies warned today.

The joint statement by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization FAO) and World Health Organization WHO) and the inter-governmental World Organization for Animal Health OIE) is the latest in a series of warnings on highly pathogenic avian influenza (H5N1), which has already killed some two dozen people in Asia this year.

In August, the Geneva-based WHO warned that infected poultry could transmit the virus to humans, potentially triggering a human pandemic.

The three agencies today said ducks may have “acquired an important new role in the transmission of the virus to other poultry and, possibly, to humans as well.” They called for urgent measures to address this role and to prevent further human cases.

A new laboratory study found that quantities of virus excreted by healthy-looking ducks could approach those released by visibly diseased chickens without giving any warning signal that might alert health officials and the public to take precautions, according to the statement.

The study shows that domestic ducks infected with several H5N1 viruses isolated in 2004 are shedding more virus for longer periods when compared with infections caused by viruses from 2003 and, as before, are doing so without showing any sign of illness.

The agencies called on affected countries to include possible exposure to apparently healthy ducks when assessing the risk of infection in humans and to advise people living in affected areas on handling. Protective measures include scalding poultry before plucking, and treating water that has been in contact with ducks if it is intended for human consumption.

Bird flu outbreaks this year have been reported in Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Laos, Thailand and Viet Nam. More than 100 million birds have been culled in an effort to curb the spread of the disease.

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