Thursday, December 14, 2006

Disease Trackers Miss Flu Cases By Testing Birds at `Wrong End'

By John Lauerman
Dec. 12 (Bloomberg) -- Disease trackers in countries including the U.S. are missing bird flu cases when they test only fecal samples without checking the mouth for the virus, a top researcher said today.

Birds that show no avian influenza in standard fecal and rectal exams may be able to spread the virus on their breath, said Robert Webster, a bird flu expert at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. Experiments by Erasmus University virologist Albert Osterhaus and Webster show that H5N1-infected birds may have as much as 10 times more virus in their upper airways than in their excrement.

``In many cases, we're testing the wrong end of the duck,'' Webster said in an interview in Singapore...

Research by Webster and Osterhaus has shown that sampling excrement and the end of the birds' digestive tract, called the cloaca, is no longer sufficient because of H5N1 is focused in the birds' airway. Osterhaus, who is developing a comprehensive European bird monitoring program called Newflubird said that protocols are challenging some countries ethical standards for animal treatment.

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