Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Fish farms and influenza

The New Zealand Herald has come out with a very odd article today making the argument that Fish Farms may be responsible for the spread of H5N1 influenza. The idea isn't without merit of course, because I could certainly anticipate that a virus could spread through the ecosystem to other organisms and in fact that is what happens with viruses like H5N1. However, the article, reasonable at first rather quickly degenerates into some pretty distinct crankery with claims like this one:
BirdLife does not think that wild birds are vectors - carriers - of H5N1, and believes that the widespread speculation during the autumn that migratory birds would spread bird flu from Asia far and wide into Europe was entirely misplaced.
What? Going to Nature and having a quick look, it turns out that Bird Flu has indeed been reported in Europe with several reported accounts.
"Millions of birds have now migrated, and it hasn't happened," said BirdLife's Director and Chief Executive, Dr Michael Rands.
I think that is slightly erroneous considering the evidence.
He went on: "Wild birds are often being blamed for the spread of avian influenza, but as far as we can tell there is no clear evidence, in fact no evidence.
Well, I think that the general scientific consensus on the matter would happen to disagree with him here. While I think there is merit to the idea that adding birds feces to fish stocks could be important, I do not think that it's the main form of transmission or the most important.