Containing infection at source - signs of success
Good farming practices and improved hygiene are working
My Tho, Viet Nam - Control measures strenuously applied against the avian flu epidemic are getting good results in Tien Giang province, one of the most severely hit in the country.
Animal health authorities in the province, in which 165 000 farm families supply nearby Ho Chi Minh City with poultry and eggs, say that only around 100 000 chickens, ducks and quail have died of the flu or been culled in late 2004-early 2005, compared to 1.5 million for the same period a year earlier.
One reason for the dramatic drop in outbreaks and animal death was the improved response capabilities of the veterinary services. Also, individuals have been more conscientious about hygiene and good production practices.
"This year we have been much more active in fighting the epidemic. We react quickly and cull on the spot," says Dr Nguyen Viet Nga, Director of the Tien Giang Animal Health Sub-department. "We concentrate on education about disinfection and other measures to take, going on television, holding seminars, distributing cassettes and even going to talk about it in schools."
Dr Nga praised local farmers for notifying authorities of sick and dying birds more quickly than the previous year, ensuring quick containment of infection on the farm.
Yet, she says the battle is far from won. "Tell people of the hardship we are suffering," she asks. "We have received protective clothing, masks and boots from FAO, which even conducted a compensation strategy study here in support of a World Bank project ? but we urgently need outside help in education and communication on the disease and diagnostic facilities to speed up response time."
Protecting the breeds
Breeding farms around Viet Nam that produce chicks and ducklings for the poultry sector are terrified that avian flu will wipe out their precious genetic stock. They report that strict prevention measures are so far keeping the stock safe.
"We even require that our workers live here on the premises in dormitories for two-week shifts, then go into a buffer zone for three days before leaving," explains Vuong Tuan Ngoc, of the Phuc Thinh Joint Stock Company in Hanoi, a farm that employs 200 workers and produces 200 000 chicks a month. "The problem is that if the workers go out they have contact with home chickens or market chickens and can bring in the virus.
"The measures worked. During the last outbreak, avian flu came to within 500 metres of the farm, but it didn't make it through the gate," he says.
Locked gates in Thailand
In Thailand's Supanburi province, where the virus was first detected in the country, a visit to two small egg farms down a quiet side road illustrates how the virus can be stopped. Both farms have hen houses built on stilts, with the chicken droppings fertilizing a fish pond below. But one hen house is full of birds and the other is empty, the farm bankrupt like so many in the province.
"We lost 10 000 birds in the first wave and had to shut down for six months," recalls farmer Boonchoo Sondej. "We restocked and spent US$2 500 on protection measures -- disposable protective clothing, antibiotics, disinfectant, nets to keep wild birds out, everything. Our gate is always locked now and no outsider can enter the coops."
She looks over at her neighbour, whose farm is eerily silent.
"They got hit by the second wave. People always seemed to be coming and going from their farm," she says.
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