16 Apr 2013 -- As the total number of human cases from avian influenza A (H7N9) virus passes 60, and the human death toll reaches 13 people, the government of Viet Nam is being challenged to prepare for, detect and respond to a novel virus that poses risks to people, livelihoods, food security, economies, and biodiversity. In response, the government of Viet Nam organized the Workshop of Implementing Guidelines of the Prime Minister on A Flu (H7N9) Control and Prevention on Saturday 13 April 2013.
To date, the world still faces a significant challenge in understanding this newly emerging virus. Currently, the method through which humans are infected remains a mystery and fortunately, human to human transmission remains unconfirmed. While it is known that this virus can be deadly in people, it causes mild or no disease in poultry making it very difficult to monitor, track and control.
Through active sampling efforts of apparently health domestic birds, the H7N9 virus has been isolated from domestic chickens, domestic ducks, domestic quail and domestic pigeons in China. Sampling thus far from wild birds including waders, sandpipers, egrets, shore birds and other migratory birds have tested negative for H7 according to Chinese authorities.
In Vietnam, the Food and Agriculture Organisation ECTAD Unit is supporting the Department of Animal Health and Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to be prepared and respond to this emerging threat. This includes heightened control at the borders to prevent poultry and viruses from entering; analyses of samples being collected in routine surveillance programs for H7N9, and development of a heightened animal surveillance strategy at the border.
Although one never wishes for a new zoonotic disease to emerge, it represents a true opportunity for the government of Vietnam to demonstrate One Health leadership and build upon the outcomes of the “National Conference on Applying a One Health Approach to Infectious Disease Risks at the Human-Animal-Ecosystem Interface in Vietnam ” which took place less than 2 weeks ago.
FAO ECTAD encourages everyone to pay close attention to the events of H7N9 and to do everything necessary, to be well prepared. However, it is essential to recall that H5N1 HPAI recently took the life of a 4 year old Vietnamese boy in Dong Thap Province; it recently caused 8 human deaths in neighbouring Cambodia; and has caused a mortality event in swiftlets Ninh Thuan Province reminding us that sustained effort is needed to curtail impacts of this influenza virus as well as the newly emerging H7N9. This will require high level government commitment, financial and human resources, and close multi-sectoral collaboration.
Facts about avian influenza A (H7N9) virus:
This novel virus contains genetic segments from 3 avian sources; 1) the N9 portion from a wild bird reservoir, 2) H7 from domestic ducks in China similar to a strain isolated between 2010-2012, and 3) other internal genes most likely from domestic poultry in the region.
Given the information available at this time, FAO is not currently recommending vaccination of animal species. Although commercial vaccines exist for H7 virus, more information is needed to determine the efficacy of those vaccines against this novel virus.
FAO does recommend strengthened biosecurity at family farms and households, commercial operators and marketplaces to assist in reducing the risk of virus introduction. FAO recommends keeping all birds and livestock separate from people and living areas as well as following good biosecurity and farm hygiene practices throughout the poultry and other animal marketing chains.
Active surveillance and transparent reporting of slightly sick or dead birds to the local veterinary authorities for sampling is of utmost importance to increase the likelihood of detecting the presence of H7N9 in Vietnam.
Influenza viruses are not transmitted through consumption of well-cooked food. Influenza viruses are inactivated by normal temperatures used for cooking so if food reaches 70°C in all parts, it is safe to eat as long as it was properly prepared and cooked. However, FAO recommends not eating diseased animals or animals that may have died of disease.