Friday, 22 February 2008

New bird flu outbreaks

Virus remains a global threat - the fight against diseases greatly improved
Jan. 24, 2008, Rome - The recent avian influenza outbreaks in 15 countries showed that the H5N1 virus is a global threat and requires close monitoring and strong control efforts, according to FAO.

Since December 2007, Bangladesh, Benin, China, Egypt, Germany, India, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, Myanmar, Poland, Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and Vietnam have confirmed new outbreaks of H5N1 in poultry stocks. Except for a few cases in wild birds in China, Poland and the United Kingdom, confirmed most of the outbreaks occurred in domestic poultry, including chickens, turkeys, geese and ducks.

"Overall, a lot of progress has been made in the maintenance of the H5N1 virus of bird flu under control. Today, we are better prepared to cope with the disease than we were three years ago," said FAO Chief Veterinary Officer Joseph Domenech. "The surveillance, early detection and immediate response has improved and many countries are newly infected were able to eliminate the virus from poultry."

"But the crisis of the H5N1 avian influenza is far from over and remains particularly worrying in Indonesia, Bangladesh and Egypt, where the virus has become deeply rooted despite major efforts to control," said Domenech.

Virus persists

Countries should continue to monitor closely the evolving situation. "The virus has not become more contagious to humans, but has managed to persist in parts of Asia, Africa and Europe. It can still trigger a human influenza pandemic," warned Mr. Domenech.

Commenting on the different countries, FAO's Chief Veterinary Officer said India fights to keep the worst-ever outbreak of avian flu in West Bengal under control.

Indonesia remains one of the countries most affected, with 31 of the 33 infected provinces since 2004, many severely. The continuation of the number of human cases is worrying.

"We found that the H5N1 virus new strains of avian influenza viruses have recently emerged in Indonesia with the possible effect that vaccines currently in use can not be fully protect chickens against the disease. This requires more 'surveys and the development of better vaccines for poultry, "said Mr. Domenech.

The Government of Indonesia and the FAO, on behalf of the network OIE / FAO reference laboratories international working together to implement a monitoring programme of the virus to examine the problem more closely.

In Bangladesh, 21 of 64 districts have been infected with H5N1, and the situation seems worse. The disease appears to be endemic in the country, and the supervision and control campaigns have so far not succeeded in stopping the transmission of the virus between provinces. FAO is strengthening its presence in Bangladesh to help the government in its efforts to bring the disease under control.

Egypt has stepped up the fight against bird flu, but recent outbreaks indicate that control efforts should be strengthened, noted Domenech.

"The reporting new outbreaks in poultry, disinfecting, culling, movement control and biosecurity in farms and markets are still inadequate and must be improved. Vaccination campaigns have been generally successful in commercial farms, but not in the smallholder sector, "said Domenech.

After the first successful vaccination on industrial poultry farms, control measures may have slowed. The disease has had a chance to reappear in the industrial sector apparently resulting from a wider distribution throughout the country. Domenech also confirmed that the potential change of virus strains should be further investigated. FAO works closely with the Government of Egypt in enhancing all aspects of detection, control and communication.

In West Africa, Benin, Ghana, Nigeria and Togo have had homes in 2007. There is a grave risk that the virus is well established in the region, warned Mr. Domenech. "Virus circulating in Nigeria could be a potential source of infection for the neighbouring countries, despite intensive efforts by the Nigerian government to combat the disease in poultry," he said. FAO continues to work closely with governments in the region in improving the fight against the disease.

In Europe, Germany, Poland, Russia and the United Kingdom have reported new outbreaks of bird flu recently.

"The detection and immediate response in all countries, especially in the European Union, is highly effective," said Domenech. "But we are seeing viral infections in poultry which are not transmitted by wild birds. This raises questions on other means of transmission and the potential reservoirs of infection, such as free-range ducks" , he added.

With the assistance of FAO, more than 50 countries have been able to control and eliminate the disease in poultry.

"The supervision and control of immediate, biosecurity, vaccination and culling good and the strengthening of veterinary services is a key element for the success of the H5N1 avian influenza campaigns," said Mr. Domenech.

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