The last decade has seen a marked increase in highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) outbreaks around the world. This increase and the zoonotic potential of some of the HPAI viruses are of great concern to animal and public health as well as biodiversity. It is now well recognized that global influenza virus surveillance in wild birds can play a key role in the early recognition of and preparation for these threats. Here we summarize the most important results from our wild bird surveillance studies in Northern Europe over the last 8 years and conclude that surveillance studies in wild birds are indeed useful to generate prototypic vaccine candidates and to design and evaluate diagnostic tests, prior to the occurrence of outbreaks in animals and humans. Through this 8-year experience we also identified gaps in our knowledge on influenza A viruses and their natural hosts which may help to assist in the design of improved surveillance studies. This is particularly relevant if wild bird surveillance studies are used as an "early warning system" for the arrival of the H5N1 HPAI virus in a country or region and to assess the risk posed by these viruses in general. © 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
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