The surveillance of migratory birds at a sanctuary on Italy's west coast has shown that many wild birds have developed bird flu antibodies from previous infections that could provide them with natural immunity against the deadly strain scientists are worried about, a researcher said Tuesday.
Mauro Delogu, a researcher for the University of Bologna working at a sanctuary in Orbetello, said antibodies found in migratory birds studied over the last 13 years could offer the birds protection against bird flu strains, including the deadly H5N1 virus that has decimated bird stocks in Asia.
"We normally have H5 viruses in the Mediterranean basin," Delogu said. "We know that in our duck population there are antibodies against H5 and this provides immunity also against H5N1."
However, even though the birds may be protected from getting sick, they can still carry the virus and spread it.
Delogu played down the risk that deadly bird flu could spread to Italy and that the virus could transfer to humans.
Though H5N1 is difficult for humans to contract, experts fear it could mutate into a form that can easily pass between humans and spark a pandemic.
"There is no more danger today than there has been any time before," Delogu said, adding that media hype had led to exaggerated fears about bird flu.
There have been no reported cases of bird flu in Italy from the current outbreak. But officials across the EU are girding for an outbreak of the H5N1 strain in birds, after it was discovered in Russia, Turkey and Romania.
It has killed at least 62 people in Asia, mostly poultry farmers directly infected by birds.
Also on Tuesday, farmers in northeastern Italy held demonstrations aimed at reassuring a public worried by bird flu that Italian poultry is safe and that eating cooked chicken posed no risk.
The demonstrations took place in cities in the northeastern Veneto region, including Verona and Padua, where most Italian farmers are based, reports the AP. I.L.