Avian influenza virus is still present in Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Thailand and Viet Nam

New outbreaks of the avian influenza virus H5N1 in China, Thailand and Viet Nam confirm that the virus is still endemic in the region, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said in a statement yesterday.

"The new cases do not come as a surprise", said Joseph Domenech, Chief of the FAO Animal Health Service.

"After the major outbreaks of a few months ago, affected countries succeeded in bringing disease under control. But the new outbreaks clearly demonstrate that the virus continues to circulate in parts of the region and new cases might flare up in future, posing a continuing threat to human health", he said.

"In designing their control strategies, governments need to acknowledge that the virus will continue to circulate and that different flu viruses could also be introduced. Eradication of the avian flu virus should be considered, at best, as a long-term task", he added.

It is probably unreasonable to expect that the disease can be totally excluded from the region in the near future. To manage the risk that the viruses pose to human health and animal productivity is the challenge. "The presence of highly pathogenic strains of the virus in wild birds makes control of the disease particularly complex and difficult", Domenech said.

It is very encouraging that governments have reacted immediately on recent outbreaks and have officially informed international organizations, FAO said. This demonstrates that country surveillance systems are becoming operative.

FAO warned, however, that surveillance and immediate reaction to outbreaks need to be strengthened and applied in all countries of the region.

"In some countries the extent of infection is still not precisely known and further investigation is urgently needed", Domenech said.

"Countries should apply surveillance and control measures nationwide and should consider the fight against bird flu as a long-term commitment. There is no easy solution to the problem", he added.

Key elements of a successful control strategy are: surveillance operative in all production systems, strengthened biosecurity of commercial enterprises and an immediate response to outbreaks including stamping-out in affected areas, plus disinfection, restriction of movements of animals and goods, and public awareness campaigns.

Targeted and strictly monitored vaccination remains a complementary option. Restocking should only be resumed if adequate preventive measures are put in place to preclude reinfection.

The FAO said that countries have improved systematic data collection since the pandemic struck. Through several national and regional projects, the FAO is closely monitoring the situation and is assisting countries to further improve surveillance and disease reporting.

With support from the FAO, regional and subregional networks are being established to bring national laboratories and surveillance teams together to improve the quality of diagnosis and data collection.

Currently, there are epidemiological indications that the virus is still present at least in Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Thailand and Viet Nam providing the potential for renewed epidemics as poultry production systems are restocked with vulnerable birds.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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