Saliva swabs for bird flu virus more effective than faecal samples

dpa German Press Agency
Published: Monday December 11, 2006

Singapore- Scientists looking for indications of the bird flu virus have been taking swabs from the wrong end of the duck, a flu expert said in a published report Tuesday. US and British scientists have found that respiratory samples taken from migratory ducks and domestic birds contain more of the bird flu virus than the usual faecal samples, said Dr Robert Webster, from St Jude's Children's Research Hospital.

Saliva swabs from the birds' beaks are much better for detecting bird flu virus particles, while faecal samples are the "least sensitive," The Straits Times quoted Webster as saying at the five- day Keystone Symposia in Singapore, which winds up on Thursday.

Faecal samples were regarded as easier to obtain.

Webster urged researchers to look towards oral swabs, or samples from water pans of domestic birds, provided they are not contaminated with faeces.

Another expert stressed that much more scientific research needs to be done to manage a human outbreak of the bird flu.

Dr Scott Dowell, who has spent the last four years helping fight infectious diseases in Thailand, told 200 clinicians and scientists on Monday that surveys in Thai villages, which had human outbreaks show "a possibility that the virus is food-borne."

"We need more rigorous studies to help us find out what are the risk factors that cause bird flu to be spread to humans," said Dowell, from the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

The focus during this year's event is on respiratory diseases such as bird flu. Nine researchers from the US, Britain and Asian are presenting their findings.

With 258 cases of human H5N1 infections detected so far, of which 158 have been fatal, Dowell said the mortality rate of more than 60 per cent "makes it one of the most deadly infectious diseases."

© 2006 dpa German Press Agency