NEW YORK - April 19, 2010 -
Wildlife Trust www.wildlifetrust.org
, the global conservation health organization, recently launched a multi-organizational effort to map current outbreaks of influenza virus to demonstrate an escalated need for surveillance of not only wild animals, but also domestic agricultural species in Bangladesh. The program commenced in March of this year and is the first-of-it-kind in Bangladesh with Wildlife Trust research scientist, Dr. Kurt Vandegrift www.wildlifetrust.org/about/experts/21-vandegrift
, serving as the project's principal investigator. The collaborative team of researchers is monitoring migration movements of Asian water birds to determine their potential role in the spread of highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza virus.
Dr. Vandegrift and the Wildlife Trust partner network organized the training, fieldwork, site selection, and data collection efforts. The team captured and sampled waterfowl in three locations in Bangladesh this year. Researchers test the birds for influenza "A" virus and attached satellite transmitters to individual birds so that their movements could be tracked every two hours over the course of the next 12 to 14 months. The radio transmitters will determine if the birds are capable of transporting the virus along their migration routes. Â It will also inform the team how the virus may affect flight performance and stopover duration. "Our hotspots map of emerging infectious diseases shows that Bangladesh is a veritable pressure cooker for disease emergence, with its vast array of biodiversity and its exceptionally high population growth rate," said Dr. Peter Daszak www.wildlifetrust.org/about/experts/9-daszak
, president of Wildlife Trust.
"The recent emergence and rapid spread of both the avian H5N1 and swine H1N1 influenza viruses clearly point towards a need to better understand these pathogens before they become problematic," stated Wildlife Trust scientist, Dr. Vandegrift. "The global trade in livestock also has ramifications for viral evolution and mixing and has led to increased potential for reassortment events between viruses around the world."
Understanding migratory routes in this region is vital to calculate the possible spread of disease. The use of satellite transmitters will aid in their discovery over the coming year, as the team will track birds' movements. Habitats used as stopover sites and breeding grounds within the Central Asian Flyway will also be identified and ultimately will promote the need to protect these vital areas for conservation purposes. The project's goal is to help clarify whether wild birds could provide researchers with a link between avian influenza outbreaks and the locations of migratory wild birds.
"While poultry outbreaks due to avian influenza are most often associated with poor bio-security in poultry production and trade, we recognize that wild birds do play some role in the ecology of this disease" according to Dr. Scott Newman, FAO EMPRES Wildlife Unit Coordinator. "Further research is needed to better understand the source of virus introduction to poultry, whether wild birds are reservoirs for this strain of influenza, and details related to the transmission of virus among domestic and wild birds."
Wild birds have also fallen victim to the virus, with large die-offs of wild species reported in China, Mongolia, and Europe. Wild birds are often suspected to be hosts for the virus, but how the virus affects certain species and the potential spread is still unclear. The H5N1 poultry outbreaks that occurred in Bangladesh have largely been controlled through culling practices, yet the virus still occurs and persists in Bangladesh. The reasons for these occurrences need to be clearly understood and the role wild birds may play is currently unknown.
International governments and corporations are recognizing that zoonotic diseases also come with high economic losses especially for countries exporting agriculture and livestock. Without proper surveillance measures the frequency and magnitude of threats will ultimately increase. Wildlife Trust continually employs multidisciplinary teams to predict and prevent disease threats at the animal-human-ecosystem interface.
Bangladesh attracts ten of thousands migratory birds of over 260 species that spend the northern winter in wetland habitats offered by tributaries of the Ganges and other river systems. Recently, 16 ducks were successfully tagged with satellite transmitters. The international team captured birds in the Hakaluki Haor in the northeast of Bangladesh. In addition to the information about Avian influenza, this study will also shed light on what sort of habitats the birds use when crossing Bangladesh during their annual migration, allowing prioritization of wetlands for improved conservation and management. "This is an important aspect of the project," says Prof. Anwarul Islam of the Wildlife Trust of Bangladesh, "currently the habitat value of many wetlands used by wild birds is not recognized." Wildlife Trust's partner network includes: Wildlife Trust of Bangladesh, Bangladesh Bird Club, Bombay Natural History Society, ICDDR,B, Wetlands International, USGS-Western Ecological Research Center and Food and Agriculture Organization.