Home / Health / Birds poop on flu viruses that could become a deadly global pandemic. These scientists are dabbing their buttocks to protect us from this threat.

Birds poop on flu viruses that could become a deadly global pandemic. These scientists are dabbing their buttocks to protect us from this threat.



Pandemic flu picking up bird poo 2.JPG
Pandemic flu picking up bird poo 2.JPG

Hilary Brueck / Business Insider

A dangerous assassin is hiding on the Jersey Shore – a murderer so deadly that he could kill 30 million people in a year.

This threat is a pandemic influenza virus that scientists are not yet ready to fight.

"The world must prepare for pandemics with the same seriousness of preparation for war," said Bill Gates last year, on the occasion of the centenary of the Spanish flu, which killed 50 million people in 1918.

If nothing has been done, an influenza pandemic today could kill 150 million people – almost half of the US population – in 20 months.

"If history has taught us anything, it's that there will be another deadly global pandemic," Gates said.

Read more: According to Bill Gates, a devastating "whim of nature" could kill 30 million people in a year. The researchers are battling this threat by studying the butts of birds.

All influenza pandemics, from the 1918 Spanish flu to the 2009 H1N1 flu epidemic, are caused by birds. They are the primordial hosts of nature for pandemic influenza.

So every spring, a troupe of influenza researchers flock to the far south of New Jersey, in Delaware Bay, where a seasonal frenzy of migratory birds creates a unique breeding ground or even without previous, of the flu virus.

Their annual research, which involves collecting samples of dung and bird droppings, is a strange but crucial ritual that scientists hope can help prevent the next influenza pandemic before it's too late.

Viewing.

Every spring, scientists and bird watchers meet on Reed's Beach, New Jersey, where an annual giant cocktail of birds takes place.

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Hilary Brueck / Business Insider

Up to 25 types of seabirds go to the beach for one reason only: feast on raw eggs of horseshoe crabs.

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Hilary Brueck / Business Insider

sources: Business Insider, Delaware Museum of Natural History

Time is running out, as the hubbub-sized crabs spawn about four weeks a year and their protein-rich eggs provide a mid-flight snack for thousands of migrating birds as they fly. to the north during the summer.

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Hilary Brueck / Business Insider

It's such a critical moment for birds and crabs that the beach is completely closed to visitors for a month.

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Hilary Brueck / Business Insider

The problem with this binge eating is that these shorebirds harbor many strains of flu in their guts. Every flu pandemic the world has ever seen came from birds loaded with viruses like these.

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Hilary Brueck / Business Insider

"These beautiful, healthy birds – about 20% of them are plagued by the flu," said Robert Webster, influenza expert at the St Jude Children's Research Hospital. , who spotted this hot spot for Jersey birds. "Where do so many infected birds come from? Where did they get their viruses? We do not really know."

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AP Photo / Elaine Thompson

Some bird viruses become transmissible by humans and can proliferate around the world, with devastating consequences. But the reason why some strains are passed on to humans while others do not stay is a mystery to scientists.

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Hilary Brueck / Business Insider

To take a closer look at the tiny birds and study their influenza strains, the researchers bring each year black gun powder, a cannon and numerous nets to Reed's Beach. The goal: to trap dozens of migratory birds for tagging and study purposes.

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Hilary Brueck / Business Insider

Influenza researchers are particularly interested in bird cloacas (their buttocks) and what comes out of them. Birds do not spread flu by exchanging spitting or coughing; instead, the viruses infect in their intestines and spread in the belly of other birds via water contaminated with faeces.

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It is therefore important to understand the types of viruses that these beach creatures, the size of a palm, wear each year. To study this, scientists use small swabbing tools, rubber gloves and flasks.

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Business Insider / Hilary Brueck

The team works together to bring the birds to a place where the cannons can surprise them and the nets catch them. This is a pending game, and this process can take hours.

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Dozens of birdwatchers and some flu researchers lurk in the tall grass and hide themselves out of the line of sight of the birds.

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If a helicopter is flying overhead or someone is rushing into the grass, it can ruin the whole operation.

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Business Insider / Hilary Brueck

Finally, when the time has come, a gun fires with a thud. Shorebirds feast in the air.

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In an instant, as the birds open their wings, a quivering net about 100 of them, sends the group into the sand.

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Business Insider / Hilary Brueck

The researchers rush to pick up the birds and put them in the shade to inspect them.

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Scientists wear gloves when they take samples from the buttocks of some birds. "We are only dealing with feces and saliva from birds," said Alinde Fojtik, a researcher specializing in influenza, who works at the University of Georgia.

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The samples taken from the buttocks of birds are not the only way to study influenza strains: the researchers also collected about 600 samples of bird poo during their week on the shore.

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They bring all of these samples to the lab, where they then perform fecal DNA analyzes to determine which strains of influenza were circulating in birds on the beach this year.

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Scientists hope that by examining and following so many different influenza strains from year to year, they may be able to create better vaccines and medicines to fight the next flu pandemic, before it be too late.

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"By examining the genome of the viruses present in wild birds, humans, etc., the goal is that in the future we can predict which viruses are really dangerous," he said. Webster.

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Hilary Brueck / Business Insider

But they are not there yet. Scientists will be coming back to this beach next spring, as they have been doing every year for three decades, hoping to create one day better drugs and vaccines to fight the flu before killing more people.

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Hilary Brueck / Business Insider


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