Bird flu situation in Asia remains critical
Virus behaviour still not fully understood - more research and investment in virus control required
4 July 2005, Kuala Lumpur - The bird flu situation in many Asian countries remains critical and requires more attention by affected countries and the international community, FAO said today.
"Eradication of the virus from the eight affected Asian countries will not be easily achieved. Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza must be considered as an endemic disease and must be controlled at source in animals," FAO's Chief Veterinary Officer Joseph Domenech said in his opening statement at an international conference on bird flu in Kuala Lumpur. The meeting was jointly organized by FAO, the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
"We notice with considerable relief that a recent joint WHO/FAO/OIE mission to Viet Nam concluded that there is currently no evidence of virus change and that the virus is not as widely spread among humans as initially thought. The rumors of increased human cases and of low pathogenic strain circulation were not substantiated and therefore there is at the moment no need to raise the level of pandemic alert," Domenech said.
"But there is also no reason for complacency," Domenech added. "The virus continues to circulate in poultry and wild birds and requires highest attention. Many questions remain unanswered and more research and major investments for national and regional control operations are required," he said.
He called upon affected countries to share information openly about their prevention and control strategies, which should be in line with international recommendations.
Role of wildlife and pigs
In particular, the role of wildlife needed to be carefully investigated. The recent bird flu outbreak in the Province of Qinghai, China, showed that wildlife could play an important role in the dissemination of the disease. "FAO advises against the killing of wild birds. Instead, we are calling for strict surveillance and prevention measures, both for the separation of wild birds from domestic animals and the vaccination of poultry in areas at risk."
FAO said that more research is also needed to better understand the role of pigs. "The recommendation based on current knowledge is to raise pigs and other animal species separately, and to include pigs in surveillance plans when an outbreak occurs in poultry," Domenech said. "We are advising against the mass killing of pigs, which are a crucial part of farmers' livelihoods and of food security in Asia."
Vaccination of poultry in risk areas remains one of the important tools in the battle against bird flu. In some countries or part of countries, such as in Viet Nam, where the virus is widely spread, massive vaccination could be the only way to reduce infection in poultry to protect humans.
"Laboratories should speed up their efforts to develop new poultry vaccines or to assess their efficiency particularly in ducks. FAO and OIE have prepared plans to carry out for the first time field trials for vaccinating ducks in Viet Nam and Indonesia in the near future," Domenech announced.
Domenech said that FAO advised against the use of antiviral drugs such as amantadine, an important anti-flu drug meant for humans. Chinese farmers reportedly used the drug to treat major bird flu outbreaks among chickens. "The use of an anti-viral drug in poultry will create drug resistance and will hamper the treatment of avian flu in humans," Domenech said. He called upon Chinese authorities to be more transparent with regard to the implementation of their control strategies.
The meeting in Malaysia will identify current practices in the production and marketing of live animals in Asia that could have potential human health implications. It will also assess the scope and effectiveness of current regulatory control measures applied to the production, distribution and marketing of live animals for food in Asia and how they could be improved.
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