Nigerian Bird Flu Outbreak Means No Country is Immune
LAGOS, Nigeria, February 13, 2006 (ENS) - Thousands of chickens have died in northern Nigeria this month, and now the bird flu may have appeared in the city of Lagos. Chicken sellers say that about 200 birds have died from unknown causes in Lagos state markets within the week.
Bird flu is spreading in Nigeria, officials with the Nigerian Veterinary Research Institute confirmed Saturday. The first outbreak in Africa, found last week in Kaduna state in northern Nigeria, now also appears to have spread to poultry farms in Yobe and Jigawa states to the northeast.
Dr. Lami Lombin executive director of the Nigerian Veterinary Research Institute, said the spread to Yobe was of great concern. She told the "Guardian" newspaper the deadly H5N1 viral strain also has been found on farms in Jos, in the Plateau State, where meetings are now being held to educate farmers on containing the flu. The Katsina State government has announced plans to establish a monitoring committee to cover all the poultry farms in that state.
Nigeria has an important commercial poultry sector and millions of backyard poultry farmers. The poultry population is estimated at 140 million.
Nigerian doctors are testing blood samples from two children they believe may have been infected with the bird flu, a senior health ministry official said on Sunday. "We've taken their samples, which are now undergoing some laboratory tests," said Nasidi Yakubu, an official with the Nigerian Health Ministry.
Reacting to the spread of the disease, Lagos State House of Assembly has urged the federal government to step up efforts to combat the spread of bird flu to other areas, especially Lagos.
"The confirmation of H5N1 avian influenza in poultry in Africa is a cause for great concern and demands immediate action," said World Health Organization Director General Dr. Lee Jong-wook, speaking from the Geneva office of the World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday.
"This latest outbreak confirms that no country is immune to H5N1. Every country is at risk. Every country must prepare," said Dr. Lee.
"There is a risk that outbreaks of H5N1 infection in birds could spread within Nigeria and into neighboring countries. Nigeria is one of several African countries located on the Black Sea-Mediterranean flyway used by migratory birds," Dr. Lee said.
"If the H5N1 virus changes to allow it to pass easily from person to person, and it goes unchecked, this could trigger an influenza pandemic. H5N1 is spreading rapidly across the world. All countries must take measures to protect human health against avian flu, and prepare for a pandemic," said Dr. Lee.
"There is no time to waste. We are ready to help all African countries take measures to reduce the risks of H5N1," he said.
The disease also spread in Europe this week. Greece and Italy said Saturday they had discovered swans with the H5N1 bird flu virus, the first known cases in the European Union of wild birds with this disease.
"It remains unclear if the outbreak has been triggered by migratory birds or by the trade and movement of poultry or poultry products," said FAO Chief Veterinary Officer Joseph Domenech.
Slaughtering, defeathering or butchering infected, sick or dead birds can put people at risk. The home slaughter and consumption of birds which appear to be sick is high-risk behavior. People culling and disposing of birds should have protective equipment, but workers have been culling infected birds on Nigerian farms with minimal protective clothing, local officials said.
"The outbreak in Kaduna state in northern Nigeria proves that no country is risk-free and that we are facing a serious international crisis," said Samuel Jutzi, director of the FAO's Animal Production and Health Divison.
The FAO and the World Organization for Animal Health have sent veterinary experts to Nigeria to assess the situation and attempt to determine how the virus was introduced, and additional experts to advise local authorities on control measures.
"It is important that local and national authorities within other countries in the region remain vigilant for possible outbreaks of suspected avian influenza in poultry and other birds," Jutzi said. "It is vital that all instances of multiple bird deaths are reported to authorities and investigated promptly."
Transparency, rapid interventions and close collaboration with the international community are crucial to stop the spread of the virus, said Jutzi. "If the situation in Nigeria gets out of control, it will have a devastating impact on the poultry population in the region, it will seriously damage the livelihoods of millions of people and it will increase the exposure of humans to the virus."
People should avoid any contact with obviously diseased or dead birds, wash their hands after touching poultry or poultry meat and should cook chicken meat and eggs thoroughly, the health agencies advised.
FAO officials urged veterinary services in Nigeria to eliminate the outbreaks through immediate humane culling and to strictly control the movement of people and animals from and to bird flu infected spots.
"We are aware that veterinary services in Nigeria are in need of international support. The animal health infrastructure in the country is facing a big challenge and will require outside assistance," Domenech said.
Laboratory materials for diagnosis and protective equipment for veterinarians undertaking investigation are urgently needed.
"Human and animal health services must be on high alert, sharing information and quickly reporting any signs of disease in birds or humans that could be due to H5N1 avian influenza," Dr. Lee said.
Nigeria is member of the West African network on avian influenza surveillance and diagnostics. The recently launched network is managed by FAO in close collaboration with the Inter-African Bureau for Animal Resources of the African Union.
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