Frequent Fliers—Web-Based Tool Aids in Understanding the Role of Wild Birds in Transmission of Avian Influenza

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This visualization tool helps researchers and public health officials see how relations between poultry density and waterfowl migration routes affect the threat of avian influenza to people and the poultry industry.

The emergence of highly pathogenic strains of avian influenza, commonly referred to as bird flu, is a serious threat to our global economy and human health. The primary threat posed by highly pathogenic avian influenza comes from the high mortality rate in domestic (and sometimes wild) birds, which can cause significant economic losses. The secondary threat from highly pathogenic avian influenza is the possibility of human infection. Although instances of avian influenza becoming lethal to humans are rare, such infections are possible, such as when the Asian H5N1 virus evolved to incur a 60-percent case-fatality rate in humans.

Dr. Prosser taking samples

USGS scientist sampling wild birds for lethal avian influenza viruses. (Public domain.)

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientists have been at the forefront of avian influenza research and are making great strides in improving our understanding of how this disease emerges and spreads. Recent research has resulted in a risk model for the spread of highly pathogenic avian influenza based on the ability of domestic birds to encounter wild fowl across space and time. The model incorporates key factors including the density of potential disease spreaders, viral uptake and shedding rates, and human density, which provides a comprehensive look at the many factors associated with the spread of highly pathogenic avian influenza. The Avian Influenza Visualization Tool makes this model easier to use so citizens and scientists alike can now see how these factors affect the risk of avian influenza transmission at this interface.

This research is supported by the U.S. Geological Survey Ecosystem Mission Area's Environmental Health Program (Contaminant Biology and Toxic Substances Hydrology) and Wildlife: Terrestrial and Endangered Resources Program.


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