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Migratory birds as terrorist bioweapons

Reader comment on item: Al-Qaeda's Limits

Submitted by Brad Arnold (United States), Feb 13, 2004 at 03:08

The Asia H5N1 avian flu reservior appears to be in migratory birds. These hardy fowl withstand infection and shed virus across state and country borders. Their feces hits the barnyard, drys, and then blows in the wind.

The RNA strand of influenza is actually composed of eight segments that are adapt at reassortment. The more strands in circulation, the more of a chance that the H5N1 avian flu will change into a supervirus that would infect people. Since animal pathogens are less controlled, and RNA is so adaptable, the bioterrorism strategy of sowing an animal pathogen would not only be agriculture bioterrorism, but would be an effective strategy to create a human pandemic.

WHO has not recommended culling migratory birds, which are the obvious reservior of the H5N1 avian flu. This is equivalent to our not seeking to exterminate mosquitos that carry the West Nile virus, and are a presumed reservior of the disease. Basically, there are potential animal/virus reserviors that can't be eliminated, and that would make any bioweapon that used such a niche unextinguishable. The viral smoldering could last for years, or even decades, before a supervirus flared.

One person could be infected with a highly contagious bioweapon, and they could fly airplanes and walk through crowds while sheding the virus, causing a epidemic, then a pandemic. You could infect one migratory bird, and cause an avian pandemic, which could turn quickly into a human pandemic.

North American birds will be returning from the South this Spring. Will a deadly, highly contagious pathogen be delivered with them? How easy would it be to smuggle a sample of H5N1 avian flu from Asia, where it is a pandemic, to America, to be introduced to our migratory bird population? Such a sly attack probably wouldn't even be labeled a bioterrorism attack, but just a natural occurrence.

Who needs airplanes filled with gasoline to use as a missiles? All you need is one migratory bird shedding the H5N1 avian virus.
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