Investigating the transmission of Avian Influenza

Migratory birds

Project title: Investigation of wild to domestic bird Avian Influenza transmission

Location: Tangua Haor, Hakaluki Haor, Baikka Beel, Sonadia Island, and Nijuhm Dweep

Duration: 2015 - 2017

Project Background: Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) (H5N1) virus is a deadly zoonotic pathogen. Bangladesh now ranks among countries worldwide with the highest reported number of HPAI outbreaks. HPAI is endemic in Bangladesh but has developed into a global issue, appearing in countries across the world. The routes of introduction of the virus are thought to include international commerce in the trade of poultry and poultry products, contaminated people and materials, illegal wildlife trading, pet trade and migratory birds. Multiple routes have probably been responsible for introductions, and perhaps within a single event, some species may have acted as reservoirs or bridge species may have been involved. Transmission risk factors also include commercial farms with low bio-security and free-range duck flocks.

Bangladesh contains wetlands of great biological diversity and is considered to be of international ecological importance due to the extensive migratory waterfowl population using these wetlands as its habitat. Bangladesh is within the Central Asian Flyway (CAF) of migratory birds providing roosting and feeding habitats on its resourceful wetlands, such as Tangua Haor, Hakaluki Haor, Baikka Beel, Sonadia Island, Nijuhm Dweep and many more.

Wild birds are natural hosts of Low Pathogenic Avian Influenza (LPAI) sub-types. These avian influenza strains are low pathogenic and are not considered to be a health concern for either domestic poultry or humans. However, the circulation of LPAI in domestic poultry can lead to mutations that cause poultry death. HPAI H5N1 appears to be rare in wild birds. In spite of this, there is some evidence that wild birds may play some role in moving the virus. In order to determine the role of wild birds in the transmission of HPAI H5N1 to domestic birds, it is important to carry out appropriately-targeted surveillance of wild and domestic bird populations.

Reasons for surveillance include:

  • to detect the presence of disease;
  • to determine the prevalence of disease;
  • to determine its significance to the population;
  • to describe and characterise the environmental variables associated with disease emergence and maintenance; and
  • to identify factors that may lead to disease emergence.

IUCN will, with assistance from Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and in collaboration with Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF)/Bangladesh Forest Department (BFD), and ICDDR or the Bangladesh Livestock Research Institute’s (BLRI) National Reference Laboratory (NRL) for Avian Influenza, implement a three-year long Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza monitoring and surveillance of wild birds programme. It has been a direct result of the USDA and FAO sponsored Surveillance for HPAI in Wild Birds of Bangladesh Workshop of June 2014. Overall, the plan has been designed as following: 

  • Year One (2015) - wild and domestic bird site location, banding, and environmental data collection; 
  • Year Two (2016) - wild and domestic bird banding, environmental data collection, and live bird sampling;
  • Year Three (2017) - wild and domestic bird banding, environmental data collection, live bird sampling, and analysis of data over three-year programme.

Objectives of the project: 

  • To fit metal rings and colour leg-flags through a catch and release method for a better understanding of the wild birds’ wintering, staging and breeding locations so that appropriate conservation measures can be taken
  • To collect samples from birds after capturing for AI
  • To collect information on several species of birds (Warblers, shorebirds and ducks) and wild-domestic bird interactions
  • To create a precedent for the use of bird rings in Bangladesh and thereby further longer-term ecological study of birds by Bangladeshi nationals
  • To provide training for Bangladeshi nationals (BFD officials) in bird capture and handling techniques
  • To provide subsequent backup and support for the future development of bird ringing as an ecological research and survey method in Bangladesh

Expected Outputs:

  • Contribute to the global efforts of learning more about AI and its ecology by capturing birds and collecting samples for monitoring a wild bird programme in Bangladesh; bird ringing aids in determining migratory paths and is an important ecological tool for conservation and monitoring
  • Contribute to the global efforts of database buildup and knowledge sharing regarding effects of the interaction among wild birds and domestic farm birds and the subsequent degree/quantification of HPAI H5N1 spread via such contact (possible publication of findings)
  • Contribute to increasing global knowledge of migratory paths, pattern, and distance of wild birds in Bangladesh’s flyways to serve as an important ecological tool for conservation and monitoring
  • Increase collaboration between public and private sectors (i.e. BFD, ICDDR,B, universities, IUCN, Department of Livestock Services, and bird clubs)

Donor: US Department of Agriculture (USDA)

Partners:  Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), Government of Bangladesh; Bangladesh bird club (Bbc); and International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (ICDDR,B)

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