Wild mallard ducks in New Zealand have tested positive for a form of bird flu.
The "low pathogenic" virus, known as LPAI H5N, is closely related to viruses found in the past and has been here for some time, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) biosecurity staff said yesterday.
It is different to high pathogenic (HPAI) form of the bird flu virus which causes fatal severe disease that spreads quickly.
The LPAI viruses may cause mild illness or no clinical disease in birds.
MAF Biosecurity New Zealand animal response team manager Dr Andre van Halderen said it was the first time the low-pathogenicity avian influenza H5N1 strain had been recorded in New Zealand.
He stressed it should not be mistaken for the H5N1 virus that spread throughout parts of Asia, Europe and Africa, killing more than 200 people and forcing the destruction of millions of birds.
Dr van Halderen said the nature of the virus meant it was impossible it could cross-species jump into humans and mutation was "highly unlikely" .
"The risk of HPAI "bird flu" reaching New Zealand is unchanged and remains low," Dr van Halderen said.
Sampling of healthy wild birds took place at seven locations across New Zealand in February as part of avian influenza surveillance.
A total of 1241 samples were collected from mostly mallard ducks and some migratory bird species in Paparoa, the mouth of Kaituna River, Lake Aniwhenua, Reparoa, Napier, Temuka and Invercargill.
Avian influenza viruses are naturally present in many species of wild birds, especially water fowl such as ducks and geeseand shorebirds, including migratory waders.
Since 1975 over 5000 samples have been taken from wild birds in New Zealand.
A small number of low pathogenic avian influenza viruses, including those of the H5 or H7 subtype, have been found in healthy mallard ducks. New Zealand has never had a case of HPAI.
- Southland Times and NZPA