Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Fighting bird flu at its origin to prevent a human influenza pandemic - Disease likely to persist for many years to come – affected countries in need of support

Viet Nam, 23 Feb 2005 -- Ho Chi Minh City/Bangkok - Containing the bird flu virus to the greatest extent possible and reducing the risk of infection in poultry and farmed free-range ducks will help to prevent a global human influenza pandemic, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said today.

“It is in the interest of both developed and developing countries to invest in the control and containment of avian influenza. Our objective is to protect human health – locally and internationally – and to promote food security – and our strategy is to control the disease at source,” said Samuel Jutzi, Director of FAO’s Animal Production and Health Division.

“This means addressing the transmission of the virus where the disease occurs, in poultry, specifically free-range chickens and wetland dwelling ducks, and thus curbing the virus in the region before it spreads to other parts of the world,” Jutzi added. “The disease could, in the worst case, lead to a new global human influenza pandemic,” Jutzi said. “There is an increasing risk of avian influenza spread that no poultry keeping country can afford to ignore.”

Remaining threat

Bird flu will probably persist for many years in some of the countries that recently had disease outbreaks. Wild birds, particularly ducks, are considered as natural hosts of the bird flu virus and it will therefore be very difficult to completely eliminate the disease.

“However, current evidence suggests that trade in live poultry, mixing of avian species on farms and at live bird markets, and poor biosecurity in poultry production contribute much more to disease spread than wild bird movements,” Jutzi said.

FAO advises against the destruction of wild birds and their habitats as such practice is unlikely to contribute significantly to disease control and is inappropriate from a wildlife conservation viewpoint.

Biosecurity crucial

Strict biosecurity measures need to be applied throughout the poultry production chain, from farms and small producers to distribution channels, markets and retailers. Public awareness of disease risks must be raised and some traditional practices such as drinking raw blood of ducks need to be changed to prevent further cases of human infection.

Many of the countries affected by bird flu have limited capacity to control the virus. They lack effective diagnostic tools and surveillance systems that are essential for early warning and timely response. Affected countries need more help to search for infection and conduct analysis. Veterinary services also need access to better tools for diagnosis and disease control, including vaccines that are efficient, cost-effective and safe.

Jutzi called upon the international community to respond to the urgent requirements of the Asian countries for support in their efforts “to get on top of this current serious situation.” They need help to strengthen central animal health and veterinary public health services; to implement stamping out, vaccination and biosecurity programmes; to develop better diagnostic methods and vaccines; to support regional networks for information sharing, early warning and control strategies.

Losses caused by bird flu

FAO said that in addition to the human suffering, recent avian influenza outbreaks have devastated many local economies. The major impact of the epidemic has been on the livelihoods of rural communities depending on poultry for their subsistence.

Close to 140 million birds have died or been destroyed in the Asian epidemic to date, and loss of their flocks has left many farmers in deep debt. Total poultry farm losses in Asia in 2004 are estimated at more than $10 billion.

The regional conference in Ho Chi Minh City was jointly organized by FAO and the World Animal Health Organization, in collaboration with the World Health Organization and hosted by the government of Viet Nam.

RAP 05/06

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