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Keeping a Genomic Eye on Bird Flu

With avian flu spreading through poultry farms in parts of North America, scientists in British Columbia are fast-tracking a genomic surveillance system for the virus, the Vancouver Sun reports.

The virus currently infecting birds is a mash-up of a North American and a pathogenic Eurasian H5N8 avian flu virus. This H5N2 virus, the Sun adds, has been rather deadly and led to the destruction of 245,000 domesticated birds in BC.

The BC Centre for Disease Control's Patrick Tang and his colleagues are using a metagenomic approach to study water and sediment samples from 20 locations across Fraser Valley in southwestern BC to study what viruses are typically found in wild bird feces. This, the Sun says, will first help uncover whether wild waterfowl are behind the outbreak affecting domestic poultry and whether there are certain hotspots for transmission. The effort is funded by Genome BC and Genome Canada, among others.

Then by re-sampling the areas when migratory birds arrive, Tang and his colleagues will be able to uncover whether any new pathogenic viruses have been brought into the mix. This surveillance system is expected to be up and running by October for bird migration season, the Sun notes.

"Warning farmers when new threats are present, will allow them to take extra biosecurity measures to prevent the transmission of a potentially dangerous virus to domestic flocks," it adds.