http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060309/NEWS07/603090573/1009 Advertisement Nation/World Bird flu expected in U.S. by summer Alaska is virus' likely entry point March 9, 2006 Email this Print this BY BILL VARNER and JOHN LAUERMAN BLOOMBERG NEWS The H5N1 virus has been confirmed in Sweden. U.S. monitoring will be increased; officials predict birds migrating across the Arctic Circle will spread the flu to Alaska. (MATS KOCKUM/Associated Press) Avian flu is likely to spread to birds in the United States by midyear and could produce an epidemic among humans at any time, the United Nations official who monitors global efforts to fight the disease said Wednesday. "We have a virus capable of replicating inside humans. We have a virus that humans are not resistant to. We have a virus about which we don't understand everything," said David Nabarro, a physician at the World Health Organization. "It is at this stage of a pandemic alert that we have the luxury of being able to be prepared." Wild birds migrating over the Arctic Circle from Africa and Europe in the next few months would carry the H5N1 virus to Alaska, said Nabarro, the UN's senior system coordinator for avian and human influenza. The virus would probably be carried to the rest of the United States six months later when birds from Alaska migrated south. It was the first prediction by a top global health official pinpointing when birds carrying the flu will reach the lower 48 states -- and was buttressed by U.S. officials who said testing will expand dramatically. U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt told a Senate committee March 1 that the virus' appearance is "just a matter of time; it may be very soon." Stepped-up testing Frank Quimby, an Interior Department spokesman, said Wednesday that the focus of concern is on Alaska and the nearby Pacific flyways. "It's a breeding ground where birds from Asia and North America go in the spring and mix together," he said. Federal, state and local health officials may test as many as 100,000 birds for avian influenza this year, mainly in Alaska. Officials had tested about 12,000 birds from 2000 through 2005, Quimby said. The stepped-up U.S. testing is to begin in April. Avian flu infected at least 31 people worldwide in the first two months of this year, killing 20 of them, according to the Geneva, Switzerland-based WHO. That's twice as many cases and fatalities reported compared with the same two months of 2005. The virus has killed at least 96 of 175 people infected since late 2003. Complex migratory routes Ken Rosenberg, director of conservation science at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, N.Y., agreed that the deadly flu now in Asia and parts of Europe and Africa is expected to show up in wild birds in the United States. "I wouldn't be surprised if it will be within the next year," he said. It makes sense to focus monitoring on Alaska, Rosenberg said, but migratory routes are so complex that there's no guarantee that Alaska is where the virus will first arrive in North America or that it will follow recognized flyways. Migrating birds can show up "virtually anywhere and come from virtually anywhere," he said. Nicholas Throckmorton, a spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said all notable deaths of wild birds in the United States will be investigated. The U.S. Department of Agriculture also will monitor wetlands and bird habitats, he said. Peter Marra of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center at the National Zoo in Washington said it's clear that migratory birds have played a role in the spread of bird flu elsewhere and that Alaska is an important place to look for it. But he said that's not the only way the virus could reach the United States. "I would say movement of birds through the illegal pet trade is probably the most likely way it's going to get here," Marra said, adding that his comment is just a guess. The Associated Press contributed to this report.