Let's Talk Turkey
For the longest time, scientists dismissed the possibility that migrating waterfowl infected domestic animals. To the contrary, wild birds were seen as victims, not vectors, of H5N1. As the theory goes, dead ducks don't fly, and once infected, they don't go very far. But this thinking is changing with evidence that a milder, asymptomatic strain of H5N1 has evolved in some waterfowl that is deadly to chickens. These so-called Trojan ducks, described in the July issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, have made scientists reconsider migrating wild birds as players in H5N1 outbreaks.
Time will sort this all out. Wild birds are slated for more aggressive surveillance and testing for virus as they reassemble in their summer homes this spring in places like Alaska, a well-known international haven for birds that have wintered all over the world.
It's too early to be sure, but Turkey may be a turning point in the evolution of a potential pandemic. In any event, this unusual burst of bird flu in its midst will teach the world some important lessons as we move ahead to contain this threat.