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News & features archive, 2012

Improving H5N1 HPAI prevention and control in most affected countries

© FAO/Hans Wagner

April 23, 2012 (Ho Chi Minh City) - Nine countries opened a three-day conference today to discuss how to improve methods to prevent and control avian influenza amid continuing outbreaks and how best to address the ongoing evolution and geographic spread of new viral strains that are increasingly less responsive to existing vaccines and control measures.

Hosted by the Government of Viet Nam with support from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), this technical and policy level discussion for prevention and control of highly pathogenic avian influenza (H5N1) gathers senior officials from five highly‐affected countries: Bangladesh, China, Egypt, Indonesia and Viet Nam along with representatives from Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand, which have also previously been affected by highly pathogenic avian influenza (H5N1).

Experts generally agree that over the past ten years, more than 300 million poultry have been culled globally due to H5N1 highly pathogenic avian influenza. In addition, of the 602 human cases to-date, almost 60% of those have proven fatal.

Participants from country governments along with international technical partners will share best practices and lessons learned from preventing and controlling H5N1 HPAI infections in poultry and humans. Mr. Diep Kinh Tan, Viet Nam’s Vice Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, who opened the conference, expects that the meeting will “help formulate next steps and practical, effective options for us all to take forward, continuing to build strong national responses and effective regional and inter-country cooperation to address H5N1 and other potentially serious zoonotic diseases.”

In the past few years, a newer variant of the H5N1 virus, referred to as clade, has emerged and expanded its geographic range from Southeast Asia to Eastern Europe, East Asia, and South Asia. Some variants of clade are different enough from other H5N1 HPAI clades so that poultry vaccinations are becoming ineffective in some countries. Despite the fact that nearly all H5N1 human infections to date appear to have been the result of transmission of the virus from poultry to people, the H5N1 virus is still considered a serious pandemic threat because of its continued presence in poultry in numerous countries, its tendency to quickly mutate and change, its ability to infect humans and its continuing high mortality rate.Since a new variant of H5N1 HPAI virus first emerged in East Asia in 1996, more than 17,000 poultry outbreaks affecting 62 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East have been reported Through the course of this sustained avian pandemic, millions of chickens, ducks and other poultry have been culled, at considerable cost and disruption to farmers and consumers.

Given the public health, animal health and economic risks, it has become clear that in some countries, simply monitoring and controlling outbreaks in poultry is not enough. According to the World Health Organization, during the November 2010 to October 2011 avian influenza seasons, 64 cases of humans infected with avian flu were reported with an average fatality rate of 52 percent within developing countries. The H5N1 virus continues to reside primarily in the poultry populations in up to 10 countries worldwide. The conference will identify key directions for country efforts and continuing international cooperation and technical support for the coming period.

Related links

Viet Nam Partnership on Avian and Human Pandemic Influenza (PAHI)
FAO Representation in Viet Nam (official website)