21 Sep 2006

US to test migratory birds in Pacific for avian flu

1:29 pm on 21 September 2006

The United States has allocated one million US dollars to conduct the first avian flu tests among migratory birds in the Pacific.

There are several bird flu strains, but it is the so-called H5N1, which is feared because of its potential to mutate and trigger a human influenza pandemic.

The flu tests will focus on Hawaii, the Mariana Islands, Palau, the Marshall Islands and American Samoa, with thousands of birds to be tested.

A disease specialist at the Hawaii-based US Fish and Wildlife Office, Dr Jeff Burgett, says the tests will help to gain a better understanding of the illness.

"That's one of the things this project will do is allow us to get a better and bigger picture of the ecology of this disease in shorebirds throughout the Pacific. Nobody has ever done this study before."

Dr Burgett says it is unlikely they'll find the H5N1 strain in the birds, but he says it is crucial to have some data from the region.

He says the budget has been allocated only for this year, but he hopes the tests will be repeated every year.