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Poultry faeces likely cause of bird flu spread, German expert says

Published on 13 March, 2006, Last updated at 11:23 GMT

7th Mar, 2006: Berlin - A German scientist said Tuesday the entry of faeces from infected poultry into the food chain via fish was a likely cause of the global spread of bird flu - and not migrating wild birds.

'We are moving away from the assumption that migrating birds are the cause,' said Josef H. Reichholf, a zoology professor at Munich's Technical University, in a comment published by the newspaper Die Welt.

Reichholf said the spread of the virus from east to west did not follow the main routes of migratory birds and was also taking place at the wrong time of year.

He also poured cold water on the idea that a cat found to be infected with the deadly H5N1 virus in Germany last month had been infected after eating meat of dead swans, ducks or geese.

Instead, Reichholf suggested the more likely vector for the disease was the heavy use poulty faeces as fertilizer on fields.

Poultry fecal matter was washed into lakes and rivers and ingested by fish or other aquatic animals, he said. The contaminated fish were then eaten by birds and animals.

Fish meal is also widely used as protein in animal feed, including poultry feed.

Reichholf noted that civet cats in Vietnam which were infected with the disease had been fed fish. Three civet cats died of the virus in Vietnam last August.

He said bird flu developments in East Asia indicated that wild birds were being infected by poultry and their faeces - not the other way around.

'We will have to live with bird flu in the future,' said Reichholf, adding: 'Perhaps we already have been for years and just didn't know it because the large numbers of dead birds which turn up during every hard winter were not tested.'


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