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Red alert over bird flu outbreak

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As poultry farmers contend with the hydra-headed challenges bedevilling the sector in recent times, a new wave of threat – Avian Influenza, popularly known as bird flu outbreak, is compounding farmers’ headache across the country.

Though the outbreak has only affected farms in six council areas in Delta State — Udu, Sapele, Okpe, Oshimili South, Ughelli South, and Ughelli North, over 164,473-mortality rate has been recorded, translating to huge financial losses.

The Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources, Mr. Julius Egbedi, who broke the news, said the laboratory analysis indicated that the birds were being affected by the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Virus (H5N1) strain.

The Guardian exclusively learnt on Thursday that the disease has entered Edo State with pockets of infection in five farms — one in Oredo Local council, one in Ikpoba Okha, one in Uhunmwode and two in Egor.

Though these are small farms, it has actually sent panic signals across the state and beyond, considering the fact that bird flu has no remedy.

The Chairman, Poultry Association of Nigeria (PAN), Edo State Chapter, Kingsley Imasuen, who described bird flu as a viral infection that can ravage farms in a very short time, said farmers in the state have embarked on biosecurity measures to forestall its spread through enlightenment campaign.

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He said: “First, the incessant outbreak of the bird flu is caused by incursion of wild birds to regions in the country, based on the weather. In the South now, the cattle egrets, which are also carriers of the disease, are not around because everywhere is wet, but towards the end of October, you’ll see them migrating to the South and other areas. Currently, they are more in the north because the rain is high, but during the dry season, you’ll see them coming.

“Second, importation of birds and farm equipment that have been contaminated is another factor. Human, animal and vehicular movement are causes of prevalent of bird flu.”

Imasuen confirmed that the avian influenza doesn’t have any cure, saying: “Once it affects your farm, it’s a total loss, within a very short time, all the birds will die without any remedy, that’s why it’s very important to prevent it. The consequence is both death and financial losses. Because it is a zoonotic disease, it can affect animals, it can also affect humans. So, because of human health importance, we try to do everything possible to prevent this disease by using biosecurity as a measure.

“Biosecurity is engaging in sanitation aspect of your bird and making sure your farm is always neat. You need to disinfect always, avoid the movement of people, vehicle and equipment into your farm easily. These things are essential because bird flu doesn’t have cure.”

However, the Administrative Secretary of PAN in Ogun State, Temitayo Oguntola, said there is no serious threat to farmers. He stressed the need to be more biosecurity conscious, more enlightenment for farmers, investors and other stakeholders in the poultry value chain.

“There are many factors that may be responsible for the incessant outbreak of this disease, ranging from human to natural causes, it’s just like coronavirus. To curtail its spread to other states, there is need for all-inclusive action.

“In Ogun State, we make sure that biosecurity measures on farms and live birds markets should be strictly adhered to, we sensitise our members on the importance of strict biosecurity measures, especially during peak periods of movement of birds— during festivals, we ensure that farmers report any case of high/abnormal mortalities on farms so that sick birds are not pushed/or sold to the public for human consumption and many more.”

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Oguntola said the outbreak of the viral infection is always a great economic loss to the farmers because it does not only reduce profitability or decline in business, it may lead to total collapse of the business since there is no compensation to farms with over 3,000 birds capacity.

“Even, where compensation is paid to farms of less than 3,000 birds capacity, the compensation is grossly inadequate and also the payment may not be timely for the business to continue.

“Its consequence on the economy includes – loss of jobs, reduced employment opportunities, reduction in government revenue and many more.

Chairman, Nigeria Veterinary Medical Association (NVMA), Lagos State Chapter, Dr. Olufemi Aroso, who linked the recurring problem to non-adherence to biosecurity guidelines, accused farmers and poultry owners of incessant breaching of the golden rule of not properly adopting biosecurity rules in their farms.

“Since it is a viral infection, it is also dangerous to human health. We cannot really say when time it’s going to mutate. So, encouraging human being to consume infected birds is very absurd. I think the solution to it is total extermination of the birds –depopulate and bury them, that is not to be joked with. To avert the spread from the affected areas, farmers should take biosecurity of their farms very religiously, that’s the only solution.”

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