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Climate change can increase risk of avian flu

New Delhi , Thu, 30 Aug 2012 NI Wire

There is a new addition to the threats of climate change. Researchers have said that the climate change could trigger risk of avian flu. The other impacts of climate change are raising sea levels, melting glaciers, intense rainstorms and more frequent heat waves.

The avian flu is a medical term for infection with bird flu Type A viruses. The virus is found naturally in wild aquatic birds worldwide and has an ability to infect domestic poultry and other bird and animal species

Normally these viruses do not infect humans. However, sporadic human infections with avian flu viruses have been observed.

Since 2003, for example, more than 600 cases of avian influenza have been reported and 300 human deaths owing to infection with highly pathogenic avian influenza A H5N1, have been reported worldwide, according to the World Health Organisation, says a report published in the journal Biology Letters.

Population ecologists Pejman Rohani and Victoria Brown from the University of Michigan employed a math model to explore the consequences of altered interactions between an important species of migratory shorebird and horseshoe crabs at Delaware Bay as a result of climate change.

The researchers found that climate change could upset the carefully choreographed interactions between ruddy turnstone shorebirds and the horseshoe crabs that provide the bulk of their food during the birds' annual stopover at Delaware Bay, a major estuary of the Delaware River bordered by New Jersey to the north and Delaware to the south.

Climate change disrupted the well-timed interplay between the birds and crabs could lead to an increase in the avian flu infection rate among ruddy turnstones and resident ducks of Delaware Bay, the researchers observed, says a Michigan statement.

The researchers further observed that as Delaware Bay is a crossroads for many bird species traveling between continents, an upsurge in the avian infection rate there could conceivably help spread novel subtypes of the influenza virus among North American wild bird populations, says Rohani and Brown.

"We're not suggesting that our findings necessarily indicate an increased risk to human health," Rohani, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, a professor of complex systems and a professor of epidemiology at the School of Public Health has been quoted as saying.

"But every single pandemic influenza virus that has been studied has included gene segments from avian influenza viruses. So from that perspective, understanding avian influenza transmission in its natural reservoir is, in itself, very important," Rohani explained.

--with inputs from IANS

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