Scientists have discovered an unexpected fact about bird flu: It might be a sexually-transmitted disease, at least in ducks. And, just as unexpectedly, the key to transmission may be all about penis size and vagina "complexity."
New Scientist reports on new research carried out by a team at Budapest's Eötvös Loránd University, which crossreferenced the love lives of ducks with outbreaks of bird flu, and found something surprising:
When the researchers compared data on the prevalence of low-pathogenic bird flu strains in different duck species with what is known about the anatomy of duck reproductive parts and mating behaviour, they found that ducks with the smallest penises and tamest sex lives had the highest flu levels.
"This is intriguing and a bit counter-intuitive because a long phallus prolongs copulation, and forced copulations characteristic to species with a large phallus should further promote virus transfer," says [head researcher Gergely] Hegyi.
The reason behind this may come from the evolutionary process of female ducks, according to Hegyi:
Long and elaborate vaginas may hinder unwanted fertilisation but may also make it difficult for viruses acquired during copulation to reach the site of egg formation.
With this new information known, two new questions arise: Will this help scientists track the progress of avian flu, and perhaps more immediately, how quickly will someone come up with a joke about birdfucking?
First evidence that bird flu is spread sexually [New Scientist]