Winous Point, OH Ohio State University’s Drs. Richard Slemons and Robert Gates have begun a two-year Ohio Sea Grant project to study how scientists can alter marsh conditions to stop the spread of waterfowl viruses like avian flu. Marsh water’s conductivity, pH, and temperature all affect how long viruses stay infectious in the environment and a longer infectious period would expose more birds to the virus.
Slemons points out that the research-due out next spring-is a proactive way to plan for a worst-case scenario. "If a dangerous virus were introduced into North America by wild birds, we would have a model to use to assess the risks before the virus spread into or beyond the marshes in Ohio."
On their yearly migration, nearly 25 million geese and ducks will stop over at the marshes in Lake Erie’s western end so the lake is an important location to study as a bird infected here can spread a virus. Learning more about how marsh conditions lengthen or shorten viruses’ infectious periods will enable scientists to manipulate those conditions in a marsh to degrade a virus more quickly or know how long to limit the public’s access to infected marshes.
Avian flu is of particular concern because the last four human pandemic flu viruses, including the H1N1 outbreak two years ago, originated in part from birds. Once they know how environmental conditions affect avian flu, public health officials can determine how to react. "Just like officials close a beach when E. coli levels are high, if we find that an avian flu virus is in wild birds using Ohio marshes, health officials can assess which marshes should be closed to the public," Slemons explains. "We could also recommend what personal precautions should be taken and for how long."
Animal producers and zoo managers could use findings from the project to protect their animals, visitors, and employees from contracting viruses. "Once you understand how environmental conditions affect avian flu virus survival, you can potentially manage and control those conditions," Gates points out.
After sampling an extensive population of birds, scientists have never found a dangerous avian flu virus in North America, but we shouldn’t wait to prepare. "It wouldn’t surprise me if a dangerous virus showed up tomorrow, next week, or never showed up," Sherman says. "These viruses are totally unpredictable and it would be important to understand how the environment affects them if they do show up here."
Ohio State University’s Ohio Sea Grant program is part of NOAA Sea Grant, a network of 32 Sea Grant programs dedicated to the protection and sustainable use of marine and Great Lakes resources. For information on Ohio Sea Grant and Stone Lab, visit ohioseagrant.osu.edu .
To learn more about this Sea Grant research, visit go.osu.edu/avianflu .
Dr. Richard Slemons, Professor, Department of Veterinary Preventative Medicine, Ohio State University, 614.292.8561, firstname.lastname@example.org .
Dr. Robert Gates, Associate Professor, School of Environment and Natural Resources, Ohio State University, 614.292.9571, email@example.com .