Thursday, November 17, 2005

Singapore steps up bird flu tests among local and migratory birds

By Rita Zahara
17 November 2005

SINGAPORE : Tests on local and migratory birds for bird flu have been stepped up islandwide, from once a fortnight to once a week.

The tests by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) and NParks also include poultry raised on farms and resident birds like mynahs and crows.

Some 100 species of migratory birds, among them the Siberian Marsh Sandpiper, flock to Singapore during the winter months between September and March each year. Starting from the northern hemisphere, they travel some 6,000 kilometres from areas like Russia, Siberia and Mongolia to South-East Asia, with stopovers in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Australia.

Sungei Buloh is one of the places migratory birds like to visit to rest and feed. Some might stay for a few days before flying off; others are known to remain here till the end of March. It is estimated some 20,000 migratory birds fly into Singapore, with the November and December months being the peak period.

Since there is no guarantee the birds are free of the avian flu virus, AVA is not letting its guard down. Said K Madhavan, head (Animal Welfare and Control Centre), AVA, "We're concerned that the migratory birds, if infected, would spread it to our poultry farms. The critical point here is to stop that avenue and for that we have got all our farms to take bio-security measures so that in the event that some migratory birds have this virus, they will not affect our farms and the trigger points will not be set."

So while the birds are in transit, NParks randomly captures different species and clips them with identification tags. AVA then takes swabs from the birds, and these samples are processed and tested. The samples are injected into eggs, which act as testbeds for viruses. The eggs are monitored to see if they grow healthily. If present, the bird flu virus can be detected between 24 to 72 hours.

Said James Gan Wan Ming, senior conservation officer, NParks, "This is a cooperative and collaborative project in which AVA is riding on Sungei Buloh's existing bird ringing programme. This is our part to enable AVA to do the necessary tests."

Since the AVA-NParks partnership began two years ago, more than 400 birds have been tested.

All were negative for the virus.

But as long as countries in the region are affected by the avian flu, AVA says the weekly surveillance will continue.

Source: CNA /ct

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