New bird flu outbreaks require strong vigilance
Virus persists in East Asia and some African countries
23 January 2007, Bangkok/Rome - FAO today expressed concern about new flare-ups of avian influenza in China, Egypt, Indonesia, Japan, Nigeria, South Korea, Thailand and Viet Nam but stressed that the number of outbreaks in the first weeks of 2007 has been significantly lower than the epidemic waves of last year. The UN agency urged countries to remain vigilant and fully cooperate with international organizations. The virus continues to kill people and damage farmers’ livelihoods.
FAO noted that it seemed that the intercontinental spread of the H5N1 virus by wild birds migrating from Asia to Europe and Africa had not taken place during this autumn/winter season at the same level as it had in 2005. However, poultry trade and the transport of live birds could still spread the virus. Cold weather enhances virus survival, but farming systems and wild bird migration as well as the movement of animals during important holiday seasons (Tet, Eid, etc.) also play a role.
The virus persists
The virus persists in several Asian countries as well as in Egypt and Nigeria. Other countries may have been affected but have yet to report.
With the start of the first epidemic wave in Asia in late 2003 and early 2004, eight countries became infected. During 2004/05, the situation improved in some countries but remained largely unchanged. In 2005/06, the virus spread from East Asia to Siberia, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa with over 40 countries affected. Since the beginning of this year, eight countries have reported infections.
“So far many countries have managed to progressively control the virus and the global situation has improved,” said Juan Lubroth, Senior Officer of the FAO Animal Health Service, at a press conference in Bangkok today. “Recent outbreaks are following a seasonal pattern and do not come as a great surprise. But we need to remain on the alert as the recent outbreaks show. It is crucial that countries themselves step up their surveillance, detection and rapid response measures.”
It will probably take several years to contain and finally eradicate the H5N1 virus from the poultry sector. This requires a strong commitment from governments, poultry farmers and the international community. Targeting the circulation of the H5N1 virus in poultry should remain the priority.
Many unreported outbreaks
Absolute transparency about disease outbreaks, involving farmers directly in surveillance and reporting activities and establishing compensation schemes are key to making bird flu control campaigns successful.
“Only immediate reporting of any suspected bird flu outbreak makes possible rapid intervention by farmers and veterinarians,” Lubroth said. “Unfortunately, many outbreaks remain unreported. National and international bodies are often not in a position to immediately verify rumors or reports about unconfirmed outbreaks.”
FAO warned that the banning of backyard poultry or duck raising could lead to illegal poultry production. “Implementing and controlling these bans will be very difficult to achieve. For economic reasons farmers will tend to hide their animals and will not participate in vaccination or movement controls,” Lubroth said. Instead of banning production, farmers should be encouraged to participate in virus control and vaccination campaigns.
In view of the widespread virus distribution in Indonesia, FAO has suggested that in addition to ongoing control measures, day-old chicks should be vaccinated before they leave their hatcheries and are nationally distributed, as well as blanket vaccination in heavily infected districts.
FAO also said that the private sector should be more closely involved in avian influenza control campaigns.
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