Wild birds help to create human flu vaccine

Avian influenza virus samples collected from wild birds in Mongolia by field veterinarians from the New York City-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) have been selected by the World Health Organization to be part of a new human pandemic influenza vaccine currently in development. The samples, collected in the midst of an outbreak in August killing wild ducks, geese and swans in northern Mongolia have unique genetic characteristics which make them a valuable addition to a human vaccine based on a variety of strains of influenza.

Working in Mongolia for a health survey of wild bird populations in Mongolia, WCS field vets Drs. William Karesh and Martin Gilbert responded to reports of the avian influenza outbreak in Kovsgol Province near the Russian border from the Mongolian Ministry of Food and Agriculture, which conducted preliminary testing from the wild birds. The highly pathogenic avian flu-H5N1 finding was confirmed by the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Southeast Poultry Research Laboratory.

"This is good for humankind," said Dr. David Swayne, director of the USDA Southeast Poultry Laboratory, which was able to grow the virus from the Mongolian samples.

"Nature is the largest, incompletely catalogued library on earth," said Dr. Karesh, director of WCS's Field Veterinary Program. "This is just one more example of the value of protecting the diversity of life on our planet, and how monitoring the health of wild species serves not only to protect them, but also can have huge payoffs for humankind."

The field team, supported by the Food and Agriculture Organization (F.A.O.) of the U.N., included personnel from WCS, the Mongolian National Academy of Sciences, the Mongolian Institute of Veterinary Medicine, the State Central Veterinary Laboratory, Ministry of Food and Agriculture Veterinary Department, and the Mongolian Ministry of Health Center for Communicable Diseases with Natural Foci searched fo

Contact: John Delaney
Wildlife Conservation Society

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