Health

Bird flu spreads in West Africa; FAO alerts governments

Cameroon has already incurred a loss of $20 million due to the outbreak

 
By DTE Staff
Last Updated: Friday 15 July 2016 | 06:53:02 AM
Cameroon’s national veterinary laboratory confirmed that the deaths were linked to avian influenza Credit: Laughlin Elkind/ Flicker
Cameroon’s national veterinary laboratory confirmed that the deaths were linked to avian influenza Credit: Laughlin Elkind/ Flicker Cameroon’s national veterinary laboratory confirmed that the deaths were linked to avian influenza Credit: Laughlin Elkind/ Flicker

Ever since the outbreak of bird flu in 2006, five countries in Africa have been affected. Cameroon has now become the latest country to detect bird flu. For the first time in 10 years, the H5N1 bird flu virus has been reported in Cameroon. Countries in West and Central Africa are on alert after this pathogenic avian influenza virus was found on chicken farms in Cameroon. The recent development puts poultry production in Cameroon and its neighbours at high risk.

Among the other countries battling bird flu in West and Central Africa, Nigeria is the worst-hit. The country has witnessed more than 750 outbreaks so far and about 3.5 million birds have either died or have been culled, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). There is a rising concern that the disease may be advancing southward.

The outbreak

The first major case of bird flu outbreak was reported in May when the virus reportedly killed 15,000 fowls in one of the largest facilities in Cameroon located near Yaounde, the capital city. Cameroon’s national veterinary laboratory confirmed that the deaths were linked to avian influenza. The country’s epidemic surveillance network has noticed an abnormally high mortality rate of fowls at the poultry complex.

While the government has ensured that the dead birds have been incinerated and the rest slaughtered, it has also ordered a ban on the sale of poultry in markets. The country has already incurred a loss of $20 million due to the outbreak.

Disease may become endemic

FAO has started alerting neighbouring governments to keep vigil and provide knowledge on prevention by sharing data 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. Gabriel’s concern is not unfounded. The virus leads to losses of nutritious food and threatens farmers' livelihoods, especially in resource-poor countries where governments find it hard to provide financial compensation for losses.

Response to flu outbreak

In order to prevent large-scale outbreak, FAO is working towards boosting local veterinary services' capacity to respond to new outbreaks in no time. Apart from culling infected and exposed poultry the FAO is also encouraging the veterinary officers to trace sources of the virus to halt outbreak.

The FAO has also recommended creating awareness among producers and traders about the clinical signs of the disease and implementing good hygiene practices to halt its spread. The UN agency is working towards boosting local veterinary systems, strengthening laboratories and deploying specialists to affected countries.

Outbreak in Nigeria

On June 28, 2016, Nigerian government reported an H5N1 avian flu outbreak at a commercial farm in Lagos. According to a report by World Organisation for Animal Health, the outbreak was confirmed in a facility that had three-week-old pullets. Of 4,000 birds, the virus killed 1,355 and the rest were culled to curb the spread of the virus. The recurrence of H5N1 outbreak was observed after a hiatus of several years.

Avian flu reported in North America

After a low-pathogenic H5 avian influenza was reported in a duck farm in southern Ontario, Canada in the first week of July, another outbreak was detected in the US a couple of days later. Bird flu was detected at live-poultry markets in three northeastern states: Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey.

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