(from TWINELINE 2011 Summer/Fall by Matthew Forte, Associate Editor)
During their fall migration to warmer climates, close to 25 million ducks and geese stop over in the marshes along western Lake Erie. Hunters and birdwatchers welcome the migration.
OSU scientists, Drs Richard Slemons and Robert Gates, not so much. The men launched a two-year Ohio Sea Grant project to study the conditions in Ohio’s marshes which favor survival of the avian flu virus.
Slemons observed that though the virus has never been found in North America, because viruses are so unpredictable, they could show up today, tomorrow—or never. And because they are so virulent, it’s essential to understand how environmental conditions promote or curtail the longevity of the virus.
Accordingly, OSU students, Charlie Schwarten and Jacqueline Nolting, are studying marsh water’s conductivity, pH and temperature to determine how each factor affects the length of a virus’s infectious period.
Using samples of marsh water from Ottawa County’s marsh at Winous Point Conservancy, the research students change one variable at a time and measure the impact of the change on the virus. To date, it appears that avian flu viruses favor an environment with a slightly basic pH, a cool temperature and fresh, clean water.
Once public officials know how environmental conditions affect avian flu, they 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 advises. “We could also recommend what personal precautions should be taken and for how long.”
He also points out that the birds stopping at Lake Erie are heading south, and that controlling avian flu in Ohio could protect poultry and human health in our southern states and in South America.
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