THE recent outbreak of bird flu in some states gives cause for concern. Plateau and Kano States are said to be the hardest hit as a result of the concentration of cluster farms in these states.
Since the resurgence of bird flu last year in 24 states, it is estimated that about 491 farms have been affected and thousands of birds have been culled in the affected states.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Avian Influenza (bird flu) is a viral disease that is commonly spread among domestic poultry such as chickens, ducks, and geese. In as much as most strains of the disease do not infect humans, certain strains like (H5N1) cause severe infections in humans, majority of these human infections have been associated with direct or indirect contact with infected live or dead poultry.
The country is currently in the grip of the Lassa fever epidemic, and in tackling this menace, avian flu outbreak has taken a back seat. The importance of putting in place effective machinery to forestall the spread of Avian Influenza cannot be underestimated.
The Federal Ministry of Agriculture needs to tackle the outbreak with all the seriousness it deserves, so as not to reduce public appetite for poultry products and to calm consumer concerns.
The poultry industry in Nigeria is a very viable sector that not only serves the local market but exports poultry products to countries around the world.
The preparedness of the agricultural authorities to forestall the spread of the disease is questionable. There are insufficient surveillance units to provide rapid response teams to affected farms. It is important that affected farmers are promptly compensated.
Inspection teams need to be set up to test the presence of the virus in commercial and small sized farms around the country. Also, strict monitoring mechanisms should be deployed to constantly evaluate the status of birds from the farms to live chicken markets.
Animal health authorities need to put in place contingency plans to reduce the impact of the outbreak of avian flu. Restriction of humans and vehicles in farms affected by the virus is important to curtail the spread, disinfecting the farm and all other procedures carried out before the resumption of normal activities.
Samples need to be collected routinely from birds at the open live birds markets, as well as carrying out regular sensitization programs for the traders to enable them identify early warning symptoms of infected birds. Strict compliance in safe disposal of culled birds is critical and deployment of strict hygienic methods at infected farms by the personnel.
Vigilance at the nation’s borders and ports has to be at high alert for bird and poultry products from overseas.
Small-scale farmers need to be educated on the importance of biosecurity practices, reporting bird flu outbreaks quickly to the relevant authorities, and strategies to minimize bird to human contacts implemented.
The possible health risks to the general public on consumption of poultry products is minimal as long as some important measures are adhered to; people need to wash their hands with warm soapy water before and after handling raw poultry and eggs. Kitchen utensils such as chopping boards should be washed with warm soapy water to avoid cross contamination. Poultry should be cooked at high temperatures of at least 165 degrees fahrenheit, eggs should also be properly cooked and runny eggs avoided.
The disease has rapidly jumped from state to state; this makes it imperative to curtail movement of livestock from infected states to other parts of the country.
The practice in some rural areas where poultry products live in close proximity with people needs to be discouraged. The Federal government needs to invite the 36 commissioners of agriculture to a stakeholders’ meeting to discuss efforts to fight the spread of the disease and roll out comprehensive strategies to tackle it.
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