Saturday, December 22, 2007

CMU Student Researching New Bird Flu Monitoring Technique

The Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge, just south of Saginaw is on the edge of two avian superhighways: the Atlantic and Mississippi Flyways.

Todd Lickfett, a Central Michigan University (CMU) graduate assistant is hoping to find a new way to watch for the bird flu. The lethal strain, H5N1, has killed more than 150 people since 2003. Over sixty species of birds and animals have been affected, in more than 4000 outbreaks of the disease.

The deadly strain has yet to show up in North America, but that doesn't mean that researchers aren't watching for it. The World Health Organization has reported the flu in Asia, Europe and Africa.

Michigan is an important migration stopover sites for 40,000 ducks, 30,000 geese and thousands of other migrating birds. So it only makes sense to watch for the disease here.

Instead of the usual, but costly, method of testing individual birds, the CMU research team is sampling the water where birds gather on their migration routes. While Michigan currently samples about 1000 birds a year, this method will effectively sample all the birds which have stopped at that site.

"If even one infected gull is in the pool," Lickfett said, "you should be able to detect a trace of the disease through a sample of the water."

They will test for a variety of bird flu strains, the deadly one and others which are common and not harmful to humans.

read the AP news story in the Detroit Free Press, "Breakthrough possible in testing for bird flu", by Elizabeth Shaw, Dec 20, 2007
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