By Lee Ching Wern
18 November 2005
As the danger of bird flu infiltrating Singapore heightens with the arrival of the winter season, the Government is stepping up the testing of wild birds for avian flu at wetlands reserves islandwide.
During the migratory season from September to March every year, about 20,000 birds flying south for the winter stop over at the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve in Kranji for a breather. Migratory birds, in particular, are a cause of concern to the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) because these birds could have come from countries affected by the disease.
To ensure visiting birds do not spark off a bird flu epidemic here, the AVA, in collaboration with the National Parks Board (NParks), increased its surveillance on these birds about two months ago.
In addition, animal health officers from the AVA perform weekly tests on the birds' faecal and blood samples. These officers visit Sungei Buloh and Pulau Ubin to trap and collect samples from migratory birds as well as resident birds such as mynahs and crows. Swabs of stool and blood samples from the birds are then sent to the AVA's Animal and Plant Health Centre for testing.
So far, the 411 birds tested here have been found to be clear of the H5N1 virus.
"There is no control over the movement of migratory birds. It is likely that they are infected from other infected migratory birds or domestic poultry," said Mr Madhavan Kannan, head of AVA's Centre for Animal Welfare and Control.
Domestic poultry such as chickens and quails are the most susceptible to bird flu. Meanwhile, many species of waterfowl, especially wild geese, ducks and swans, may carry the virus without clinical signs.
"We're concerned migratory birds may spread it to poultry farms, so the critical point is to stop that avenue," said Mr Madhavan. "For that, we've got all our farms to take bio-security measures so if some birds have it, the trigger point won't be set."
Until the whole bird flu scare blows over, Singapore will continue with the weekly surveillance.