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Angst over return of bird flu

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 --Jijiwa-kk

SEVEN years after the last occurrence in Nigeria, Bird Flu is here again.

    While there are concerns on trying to limit the spread and stop the transmission from poultry to humans, there is greater concern in ensuring that the virus does not mutate into a form that can be transmitted from human to human.

     A lady infected with the virus died in Lagos during the 2006 outbreak.

Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) or Bird Flu is reported to be caused by the H5N1 strain of the virus and affects wild birds and domestic poultry in which it causes very high mortality.

    The disease has been reported in several countries of the world. In Nigeria, the first and last known outbreak occurred in 2006-2008.

   Like in the 2006-2008 occurrences, the virus is spreading fast, expanding from farm to farm, and from state to state.

   The Nigerian Veterinary Medical Association (NVMA), last week, alerted that bird flu had so far been recorded in 17 states. 

   Indeed, the current outbreak was first recorded in a commercial farm in Kano on December 24, 2014 and a bird market at Onipanu in Lagos on January 5, 2015. This was confirmed by the National veterinary Research Institute, Vom. As at February 18, the disease had been confirmed in 17 states nationwide. These are Kano, Lagos, Ogun, Rivers, Delta, Plateau, Edo, Gombe, Imo, Oyo, Jigawa, Kaduna, Bauchi, Zamfara, Katsina, Sokoto and Anambra.

    Official statistics indicated that the confirmed cases are from 146 poultry farms, 10 live bird markets and 11 zoological gardens spread in 61 local government areas. There has not been any reported case of bird flu so far in humans in the country and all human samples have so far tested negative.

    For Nigeria, bird flu is considered a grave concern for some reasons.

    Experts say that the poultry industry in Nigeria is estimated to be worth over N700 billion, contributing about 25 percent of the agricultural GDP. They reason that a disease such as bird flu is highly fatal and capable of decimating the poultry population.  It is seen as having the potential to adversely affect the country’s economy.

    There are also arguments that since the poultry industry employs an estimated 25 million people in Nigeria, if not contained, bird flu could place the jobs of a huge segment of the populace in jeopardy and exacerbate the already dire unemployment situation in the country with its attendant socio-economic consequences.

    Bird flu is a zoonotic disease, affecting both animals and humans. Indeed, while bird flu causes nearly 100 percent mortality in poultry, the mortality rate in humans is also high, ranging, according to available statistics, between 60-70 percent.

    The United States Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that human infections with bird flu have occurred rarely, but if the virus was to change in such a way that it is able to infect humans easily and spread easily from person to person, an influenza pandemic could result.

    A World Health Organization (WHO) factsheet notes that influenza viruses circulating in animals pose threats to human health. 

    According to WHO, humans can become ill when infected with viruses from animal sources, such as avian influenza virus subtypes H5N1 and H9N2 and swine influenza virus subtypes H1N1 and H3N2. The primary risk factor for human infection appears to be direct or indirect exposure to infected live or dead animals or contaminated environments.

    The Nigerian Veterinary Medical Association (NVMA) has issued health concerns over the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) resurgence in Nigeria.

    While the Association was optimistic that if Nigeria works together as a nation, it could conquer the disease like Ebola, it also called on all veterinary doctors to consider the resurgence of the disease, also known as Bird Flu, as a professional challenge and quickly rise to the occasion.

     In a chat with journalists in Abuja, National President of the Association, Dr. Edgar Amos Sunday, also called for the review and streamlining of the Animal Disease (Control)  Decree of 1988 to meet contemporary realities.

    The Association stressed that poultry meat and eggs should be hygienically processed, adding that if well-cooked, it is safe for human consumption.

    The Association also weighed the scientific and other arguments concerning the use of vaccines for Bird Flu and suggested that government’s current policy against vaccination as a strategy in the control of bird flu should be sustained.

    He urged the public not to panic, but called on poultry farms to ensure strict monitoring and restriction of movement of people and items such as crates, bags and so on, especially between farms.         The Association also canvassed strict hygiene before and after handling poultry.

Sunday said: “Cases of ill health in poultry should be reported immediately to the nearest veterinary clinic. The Avian Influenza Control Project structures in various states should be strengthened and equipped to carry out public enlightenment, surveillance, depopulation, disinfection and so on. State governments, in particular, should invest more in providing and upgrading veterinary infrastructure.  Active surveillance should be carried out immediately throughout the country, even in states where the disease has not been reported. This is to facilitate movement ahead of the virus.

     “More veterinary doctors should be employed by government. The situation in some states that have less than 10 veterinary doctors in their service is inimical to both animal and public health. Such states cannot effectively carry out health service delivery and control of diseases like bird flu.”

     He stated further: “More veterinary hospitals, clinics and laboratories should be constructed while existing ones should be rehabilitated and equipped. Specifically, the NVRI laboratory in Vom and its branches should be supported to enhance the capacity for quick and accurate diagnosis of bird flu and other diseases. Development partners should lend their support in these regard. Standard operational procedures for poultry business should be re-designed and implemented”

     He called on government to provide sufficient funds for the payment of compensation to farmers whose poultry had been depopulated. 

     He stressed, however, that the prospects for containment were bright despite the implications of bird flu resurgence in Nigeria.

    “The experience, technical manpower, facilities and support used in containing the 2006 outbreak is accessible,” he observed. 

    On its part, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, in January, raised the alarm over the outbreak of avian influenza otherwise known as bird flu in some poultries in Kano and Lagos states.

    The Ministry recalled that the disease was discovered following the unusual high mortality reported in two poultry farms and live bird markets in Kano and Lagos states.

     Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr Akinwunmi Adesina observed that samples taken from the birds were forwarded to National Veterinary Research Institute (NVRI), Vom, Plateau State, where it tested positive to H5 Strain of Avian Influenza Virus.

   Lagos State Commissioner for Agriculture and Cooperative, Gbolahan Lawal, said in January that  about 2,000 infected birds had already been killed in a poultry farm in Badore area of the state

   He said the birds were killed during intensive surveillance, which has been mounted in all major poultry farms in the state to prevent spread of the deadly disease.

    Lawal noted that samples collected from a poultry farm in Badore were also confirmed positive while a Zoological park based in Victoria Garden City presently experiencing high mortality of wild birds in captivity is on the suspicion list and it is being investigated.

    He added that in order to contain the spread of the infection, the government had embarked on active diseases search by surveillance agents, bio-security monitoring and sensitization in poultry farms and markets, disinfection of poultry markets and decontamination of affected farms and sensitization of poultry farmers and traders on insurance policy issues.

    He said: “To complement the above activities, the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives is collaborating with the State Ministry of Health, the Lagos State branch of the Poultry Association of Nigeria, National Agriculture Insurance Corporation (NAIC) and Lagos State Fowl Sellers Association.

   “A team of eight technical staff, comprising representatives of the Federal Livestock Department, National Quarantine Service and the National Veterinary Research Institute is currently in the state on disease assessment and surveillance.”

     “Sensitization of poultry farmers and fowl sellers is being vigorously embarked on by the Surveillance and Extension Agents deployed by the ministry to cover the entire state. 



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