H5N1 avian flu returns to world stageH5N1 avian flu returns to world stage
As H5N1 spreads in West and Central Africa, FAO calls for increased vigilance.
July 13, 2016
Countries across West and Central Africa are on alert as the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus H5N1 continues to spread across the region, with Cameroon becoming the latest African country to detect the disease, according to the U.N. Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO).
The strain kills poultry at a high rate and also can infect and cause death in people.
The latest H5N1 outbreaks were recently confirmed on chicken farms in Cameroon, putting poultry production in the country and its neighbors at high risk. This is the first time the disease has been found in Central Africa since 2006.
The highly pathogenic H5N1 strain first emerged globally in 2003 in Southeast Asia and spread rapidly and widely across Asia, Europe and Africa. The virus strain is now considered endemic in some regions of Asia.
The latest finding in Cameroon brings the number of countries that have battled bird flu in West and Central Africa to six, also including Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Niger and Nigeria.
Nigeria, which has a large poultry industry, continues to be most affected, with the total number of outbreaks exceeding 750 and nearly 3.5 million birds dead or culled. The newly recorded outbreaks in Cameroon raise significant concerns that the disease may be advancing southward, triggering national and global emergency responses to contain the disease and conduct health screenings of poultry workers, FAO said.
FAO is alerting neighboring governments to be vigilant and continue their heightened surveillance and prevention efforts, including common messaging to the public and data sharing between the public health and agriculture sectors.
"We're looking at a quickly spreading disease that has devastating effects on livelihoods in communities," said Abebe Haile Gabriel, FAO deputy regional representative for Africa.
"H5N1 causes major losses of nutritious food and threatens farmers' livelihoods, particularly in resource-poor environments where governments have difficulty providing financial compensation for losses," he said, adding that "trade restrictions often pose an additional hardship on already struggling economies."
The H5N1 strain of avian influenza has caused the death of tens of millions of poultry and losses of tens of billions of dollars worldwide since the virus first spread internationally in 2013.
FAO is working closely with the World Health Organization and the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) to offer member countries assistance, such as risk assessments, contingency planning, technical advice and laboratory material. They also help investigate potential avian influenza cases in animals and humans and locate the source of infection.
In Cameroon, FAO is boosting the capacity of local veterinary services to respond rapidly to new outbreaks and is working with the government to finalize an action plan similar to effective plans applied in other countries stricken by the virus.
Response interventions include culling infected and exposed poultry, disinfecting premises and markets and safely disposing of dead birds.
Veterinary officers, meanwhile, are encouraged to to find sources using basic techniques like "trace forward" — which looks at where infected animals have been sold or moved to — and "trace backward" — examining where infected animals were purchased or where they came from — with the ultimate goal of halting continuous virus introduction or further spread.
A major concern is that the disease may become endemic in the entire region, particularly in Nigeria, where avian influenza has become so entrenched in poultry production and marketing systems that it will be difficult to eliminate, FAO said.
For that reason, producers and traders need to be made aware of the clinical signs of disease symptoms, how and to whom to report a case and how to implement good hygiene practices to halt spread of the disease.
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