Asian bird flu update for Ferbruary 2012

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Nepal

Health workers in Nepal are to cull thousands of chickens following the discovery of the H5N1 strain of bird flu in the southeastern part of the Himalayan country.

Ram Krishna Khatiwada, of the government's Directorate of Animal Health said, “We sent samples for investigation to London after chickens started to die of a mysterious disease in commercial poultry farms… We have received the test reports today that confirms infection of bird flu in poultry farms in Khanar and Ithari of the Sunsari district.” He added that bird flu has also been confirmed in the eastern hills of Panchathar district and the tea-producing area of Ilam, Katiwada and said surveillance of farms was to be stepped up and 4000 chickens would be killed in the affected areas.

“There has not been infection to humans in the area so far. Some have complained of itching and vomiting but that is only panic. We will get the situation under control in one or two days,” he said.

Nepal's first reported outbreak of bird flu in poultry was in January 2009 in the eastern part of the country. The virus reached the capital Kathmandu for the first time in December last year, with health workers culling hundreds of chickens and ducks. If it spreads to humans, bird flu can cause fever, cough, sore throat, pneumonia, respiratory disease and sometimes death.

India

After detection of Avian flu in India State Odisha, the government last Saturday gave a go-ahead to culling of poultry birds in 3-km radius of the Central Poultry Development Organisation (CPDO). At the same time, culling will also be taken up at the OUAT bird farm.

After receiving the Ministry of Agriculture’s instructions, the Fisheries and Animal Resources Development department asked the Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation (BMC) and Khurda District Administration to chalk out plans and carry out the culling, which will start from Sunday. At least 29,857 birds in CPDO, a Government of India undertaking, will be culled in phases, besides those in the neighborhood. Since the area in the 3-km radius has been declared as alert zone, all poultry birds and product shops are being closed down.

Pakistan

In Pakistan eight peacocks have died in Lahore mysteriously. While the cause is still being investigated, fears that it could be some strain of bird flu are being suppressed.

The fears in the agricultural sector and poultry are confirmed from the recurrences in past few months of the highly pathogenic avian influenza (H5N1) in India (where thousands of birds have been culled), Bangladesh (that culled 50,000 chickens), China (where a death in January from the deadly H5N1 has been confirmed) to across Iran (in September 2011) and as far down in Indonesia and Australia.

What makes Pakistan vulnerable to the deadly virus is the absence of any surveillance system to detect, monitor and control the virus that has mutated into more than 260 different forms from spreading in farm chickens. Following H5N1 outbreak in 2005, the avian influenza surveillance launched at the Animal Sciences Institute, NARC at the National Reference Lab for Avian Influenza (NRLPD) was another casualty of devolution. The surveillance work at NRLPD helped control further spread of avian influenza and eventually eliminated it by July 2008. However, the early warning programme was terminated in June 2011 under the 18th Amendment.

Project Director National Programme for the Control and Prevention of Avian Influenza Dr Mohammad Akram Muneer who is a PhD in Veterinary Microbiology from the US asserted, “The early warning system is imperative if Pakistan has to save the giant Rs300 billion poultry industry.” Principal Scientific Officer National Veterinary Laboratory Islamabad, Dr Khurshed Ahmad also believed that since diseases in farm animals were major concern of food security an early warning system was much needed. He supported his argument by explaining how the H9 form of avian influenza (non-transmissible from birds to humans) had been permanent resident in Pakistan since 1995-96. The threat from H7 form (also non-transmissible to humans) that had also threatened farm chickens in Pakistan could also not be ruled out.

“The Federal government has been providing funding and coordinating in this regard. Incapacity of provinces to maintain such projects is a concern that should have been taken up before devolution,” said Advisor for Health Planning Commission Talib Lashari who believed that provinces had the capacity — infrastructure and trained manpower– and had been on ground. However, there was always room for improvement and capacity should be further improved, the official said.

Australia

Asian bans on Australian poultry imports in the wake of a bird flu outbreak on two Victorian farms are an overreaction, the chicken meat industry says. The Australian Chicken Meat Federation says Vietnam, Singapore, and Hong Kong have placed bans on all poultry products from Victoria, while Japan has cancelled all imports from across Australia.

But the federation's executive director Andreas Dubs said on Wednesday the response so far was an over-reaction to the threat. “It's out of proportion to what I would consider the risk is,” Dr Dubs said. “It's very [much] localized. It's very low risk,” he said.

The bans come days after authorities quarantined two commercial duck farms northwest of Melbourne after detecting low pathogenic avian influenza, which is not the deadlier and more contagious form of the virus that has spread through Asia in recent years. More than 20,000 ducks are being culled and the two farms, owned by the same company, are being sterilized to stop the virus from spreading.

The poultry industry says the bans are more of a nuisance than a serious concern at this stage. There could be some impacts on other animal-related products, such as ice-cream, which contained eggs, Dubs said.

Other countries like South Africa are now requiring certification that an Australian poultry import has not come from within 20km of the quarantined sites. Dr Dubs said he was hopeful the bans would be lifted in the coming days.

Last week Victorian officials stressed that the avian flu outbreak would pose no risk to the community. Dr Hugh Millar, the state's chief veterinary officer, said authorities acted quickly only as an extreme precaution to eliminate all chances that the virus could spread. “This is all about making sure that the virus doesn't one day in the future evolve and mutate into a more serious form,” Dr Millar said. The source of the outbreak has not been confirmed but officials believe the virus could have been introduced from wild waterfowl known to harbor influenza viruses.

Victorian Deputy Premier Peter Ryan says Victoria's poultry quality control is top-notch. “We have a very, very strong place in these markets, both domestic and particularly international,” he told reporters. “Our quality control is recognized worldwide as being the best, certainly amongst the best. These issues do arise intermittently and I'm sure it will be accommodated sooner than later and we'll be back in the marketplace.”

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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