Helping prevent avian influenza in Latin America and the Caribbean
FAO handbook offers guidance to small poultry farmers
30 August 2006, Rome - In order to help prevent a possible outbreak of avian flu in Latin America and the Caribbean and enhance public awareness of the threat posed by the disease, FAO has just published a new handbook targeted especially to the region's small-scale poultry farmers.
The richly illustrated publication, entitled Guide to the prevention and control of avian flu in small-scale poultry farming in Latin America and the Caribbean (Guía para la prevención y el control de la gripe aviar en la avicultura de pequeña escala en América Latina y el Caribe) stresses the measures needed to ensure on-farm biosecurity and prevent contact between domestic poultry and potentially infected wild birds.
"This information is specifically designed to meet the needs of small-scale and farmyard poultry production units. The handbook stresses simple and affordable methods to prevent and control the disease," said Joseph Domenech, head of FAO's Veterinary Services.
"It is very important for poultry farmers to be acquainted with the characteristics of this disease so that they can recognize it in the event of an outbreak, and immediately report it to the authorities. Prevention is the most effective weapon to forestall more serious damage and keep Latin America free of this fatal disease," he added.
FAO's handbook is intended for widespread distribution and has been made available free-of-charge on the UN agency's website. It will also be circulated among the staff of local veterinary services and livestock technicians working with small-scale producers in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The book grew out of a similar publication aimed at small-holders in Southeast Asia, a region where there was a massive outbreak of the deadly H5N1 virus in 2003/4 and from where it subsequently spread to Europe, the Near East and Africa.
A high level threat
If avian flu does appear in Latin America and the Caribbean it will threaten the food security of the most vulnerable groups in the region. In these countries, poultry generally accounts for over 70% of animal protein consumption.
Such an epidemic would have huge repercussions on this important livestock subsector. The American region is the world's leading poultry producer (current stocks are 4,850 million head), with Brazil topping the list. The poultry industry, which is expanding throughout the continent, has become a major source of income and employment and makes an important contribution to rural and peri-urban development.
Healthcare systems in the region's small and financially-strapped countries would also encounter serious difficulties when trying to check the spread of the disease.
The role of migratory birds
"Wild birds, particularly aquatic species taking the migration route from eastern Siberia to Alaska or from Iceland to northern Canada via Greenland, could introduce the virus into the American continent," explained Juan Lubroth, an FAO animal health expert.
Once it reached the northernmost areas of the Americas, the H5N1 virus would be able to follow North/South migration routes and spread from the Arctic to Tierra del Fuego, he added.
Domestic poultry smuggling and informal trading within and between the countries in the region, as well as popular cockfighting contests, can also contribute to the expansion of avian influenza.
Even though the H5N1 strain has never been detected on the American continent, in recent years other subtypes of the avian influenza virus (H5N2, H7N3) have caused outbreaks of the disease in Canada, Chile, the United States and Mexico. All were successfully brought under control and eradicated.
To address this threat FAO recently approved four regional projects for the Southern Cone region, the Andean Region and Central America and the Caribbean* to enhance preventive measures and heighten their capacity to respond to any future outbreaks of bird flu.
The main thrust of these projects is to bolster the capabilities of countries to generate and share information on avian influenza, draw up early warning and rapid reaction plans and improve their understanding of the risk posed by migrating birds and trade in wild birds.
Among other measures, epidemiological monitoring and diagnostic laboratories will be improved, as will cooperation with existing information networks such as the Global Livestock Early Warning System (GLEWS) and the OIE/FAO Expert Influenza Network (OFFLU).
*The Southern Cone: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay. The Andean Region: Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela. Central America (8 countries): Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua and Panama. The Caribbean: Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, St Kitts and Nevis, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Lucia, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago.
Information officer, FAO
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