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H5N1 in Asymptomatic Mute Swan in England

Recombinomics Commentary 02:02
January 11, 2008

The Times has learnt that one of the birds that was submitted to the agency by the swannery for routine testing was found dead on December 27, just over two weeks ago. The bird was put into cold storage. A second bird was found injured on December 30 and was also placed in storage. A third swan was found on January 4, but it was not until Monday that they were sent for testing.

At least one of those infected was found with a broken leg. It was humanely killed, but showed no obvious symptoms of any virus.

Staff at the swannery were astonished to learn that the birds were infected with the avian flu virus. January is not a migration period and there has been no cold snap on the Continent to force birds to cross the Channel. The birds at Abbotsbury do not migrate.

Test results are expected today on two more dead swans found near Abbotsbury.

The above comments indicate Defra has found H5N1 in an asymptomatic swan (see satellite map), and it is very likely that most or all of the swans are infected with H5N1. 

The surveillance in England has been suspect for some time.  Very few birds test positive for avian influenza, which is common in wild birds, and virtually no virus is isolated.  When the H5N1 positive whooper swan washed ashore in Scotland in April 2006, no other H5N1 was found.  The sequence of the H5N1 was just released, and it was closely related to sequences from northern Germany, Denmark, and Sweden.  Thus, although H5N1 was widespread in the area, Defra failed to find any positives beyond the one dead bird.

Similarly, Defra failed to find H7N3 or H7N2 prior to outbreaks on poultry farms in 2006 and 2007 and H5N1 was not found in wild birds after the H5N1 outbreak in Surrey at the end of last year.

These failures were used to create artificially low risk assessments.  The outbreaks in Germany, Czech Republic, and France in the summer of 2007 signaled additional outbreaks in the fall / winter, which has been seen in England, Poland, Germany, Krasnodar, Rostov (as well as outbreaks in Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt).

The poor monitoring and lowered expectations allowed the H5N1 to silently spread in the mute swans at Abbotsbury, as H5N1 is undoubtedly doing throughout Europe at this time.

H5N1 doesn’t read Defra or OIE press releases.
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