Iceland – a hotbed for bird flu viruses Featured

Iceland – a hotbed for bird flu viruses

Scientists at the University of Iceland, in collaboration with American and Icelandic colleagues, demonstrated that bird flu viruses from both continental Europe and North-America, as well as mixed virus strains are found in wild birds in Iceland. The results of this study were recently published in the scientific journal PLOs One.

The study was carried out in the autumns of 2010 and 2011 in Iceland with the participation of the US Geological Survey, the Southwest Iceland Nature Research Institute, the University of Iceland, the Snæfellsnes Research Centre, the University of Minnesota, and the J. Craig Venter institute in the United States of America. Over one thousand wild birds were caught and samples from them taken for research. The birds caught were seabirds; ducks, geese and swans (the family anatidae), and waders in the southwest and west of Iceland – and the samples were analysed to look for bird flu viruses and to examine the genomes of the viruses.

The research revealed that in the anatidae only European bird flu strains were found, but in gulls viruses from Europe and North-America could be found, along with a mix of viruses from these two continents. This is the first time that viral strains from both continents are found simultaneously in the same place. This indicates that Iceland is a hotbed for the mixing of bird flu viruses. Large groups of migratory birds stop here every year en route between breeding grounds in Canada and Greenland and their wintering grounds in North-Western Europe all the way south to South-West Africa. The bird flu viruses are transmitted between birds and mix.

Bird flu viruses can thus be transported from Europe and Asia to North-America through Iceland, according to these results, but formerly it had been assumed that they would mostly come via Alaska. Dr Gunnar Þór Hallgrímsson, Associate Professor at the Faculty of Life and Environmental Sciences says that these findings show that there are ample grounds for continuing research on bird flu viruses in Iceland. Such research provides basic information on how bird flu spreads and is mixed among different bird groups.

It bears mentioning that no viruses of the strain H5N1 or other virus strains that are known to have been transmitted from birds to humans were found in the research. One virus of the strain H5N2 was found, a particularly aggressive variety of that strain has wreaked havoc on poultry farms around the world. This study is a very important part in the observation of bird flu viruses and their distribution.

Source: University of Iceland


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