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FAO’s support to the HPAI emergency in Egypt

06 March 2015 - Egypt has been suffering from highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) of the H5N1 subtype for almost a decade and the disease is considered to be deeply entrenched in the poultry industry of the country. Outbreaks in poultry from both commercial and household sectors are at the order of the day all year round and occasionally humans get infected when they are in close contact with sick poultry, mainly in the context of household poultry keeping. As the number of HPAI H5N1 events has dramatically increased since December 2014, the country is now on high alert. Between December 2014 and February 2015, a total of 352 poultry outbreaks and 101 human cases have been recorded country-wide with 31 human fatalities. This compares to only 44 poultry outbreaks and no human cases reported during the same time period the year before.

On a global scale, Egypt has now become the country most affected by H5N1 in terms of human cases (37% of all cases worldwide). The recent events occur in a context of increased HPAI H5 activity worldwide, in terms of number of outbreaks, virus diversity as well as geographical spread. Countries in East Asia that are considered endemic for HPAI H5N1, like Egypt, have also recorded an increasing number of outbreaks lately. Likewise, previously unaffected countries in Europe, Africa, the Near East and North America reported HPAI H5 viruses in both poultry and wild birds.

The last global panzootic of HPAI H5N1 occurred in the years 2004 to 2007 and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has since established a strong technical team in Egypt known as the Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal Diseases (ECTAD-EGY). ECTAD has been built up as FAO’s corporate centre for the planning and delivery of veterinary assistance to member countries suffering animal health crises and in Egypt activities specifically include (i) AI surveillance in poultry and live bird market environments, (ii) improvement of laboratory capacities, (iii) genetic and antigenic characterization of currently circulating viruses, (iv) laboratory- and field-level vaccine effectiveness trials, as well as (v) disease mitigation and policy advice.

FAO’s EMPRES-Animal Health programme is following the evolving disease situation closely, liaising with ECTAD-Egypt almost on a daily basis to provide support for analysis and discuss disease mitigation measures. Information received from Egypt is stored in the EMPRES Global Animal Disease Information System (EMPRES-i: empres-i.fao.org) and results from the analysis are shared and discussed with partner organizations and the scientific community. Preliminary analysis of the genome sequences of H5N1 viruses circulating in Egypt suggests that they continue evolving. The recent viruses show new genetic features, amino acid substitutions, particularly in the neuraminidase (NA) gene. FAO will continue working in partnership with the National Laboratory for Quality Control in Poultry Production (NLQP) to further investigate these observed genetic changes and assess their potential consequences. Based on these recent observations, experts attending the latest World Health Organization (WHO) Vaccine Composition Meeting, held in February 2015 and advising vaccine companies on which viruses should be included in human influenza vaccines, selected one of the recent Egyptian viruses as a new candidate vaccine strain for pandemic preparedness. Likewise, FAO and partners are investigating if the poultry vaccines currently in use in Egypt are still protective for the recent viruses or if their composition needs to be changed.

As part of FAO’s support to Egypt, international and national experts will join a field mission to be undertaken by delegates from several international organizations (including FAO, WHO and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE)). Findings from the mission are expected to increase our understanding of the current disease situation. The mission team will be asked to identify options for improved disease control and provide recommendations for strengthened inter-sectoral collaboration.


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Geographical distribution of H5N1 HPAI outbreaks and human cases reported from 1 December 2014 until 28 February 2015 in Egypt

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Chronological distribution of H5N1 HPAI outbreaks in poultry and findings in the environment as well as human cases reported from 1 January 2010 until 28 February 2015 in Egypt


  Comments: EMPRES-Animal Health webmaster

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