Feb 9, 2006 (CIDRAP News) – Deadly H5N1 avian influenza was reported on farms in two more Nigerian states today as United Nations officials warned that the virus's emergence in Africa represents a serious crisis.
The Nigerian agriculture ministry said the virus had been found in chickens on two farms in Kano state and one in Plateau state, according to an Agence France-Presse (AFP) report. Kano borders Kaduna state, site of the first reported outbreak, on the northeast, and Plateau borders it on the southeast.
"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 the UN Food and Agriculture Organization's (FAO's) Animal Production and Health Division, in a statement yesterday.
Lee Jong-wook, head of the World Health Organization (WHO), said today, "The confirmation of H5N1 avian influenza in poultry in Africa is a cause for great concern and demands immediate action."
The deaths of 60,000 poultry in Kano had been reported previously, but officials had said tests for avian flu were negative. It was not clear today how many of the deaths were due to avian flu, according to the AFP report.
Tope Ajakaiye, spokesman for the Nigerian agriculture ministry, said the outbreak sites have been quarantined. "The federal government is doing everything to contain the disease within the three centers that have been located," the Associated Press (AP) quoted him as saying.
The AP reported that Junaidu Maina, director of Nigeria's livestock department, said poultry farms all across northern Nigeria were under quarantine, but he did not say how many of the country's 36 states were included in the order.
Government accused of slow response
Awalu Haruna of the Poultry Farmers' Association of Kano yesterday accused the government of tardiness in responding to the outbreak, the AP story said. "The government should have quarantined the affected farms to prevent further spread," he said. "But as I speak this has not been done. There is still movement of humans and birds in and out of these farms."
According to a Reuters report today, workers at the Kaduna farm where the virus was first reported said all the birds had died about a month ago. "They burned them and buried them," one worker was quoted as saying. "They didn't tell us what had happened. I heard it on the news."
About 40,000 birds reportedly died on the farm, near Jaji village. Fifteen large concrete hangars used as chicken barns stood empty today, Reuters reported.
The story also said agricultural authorities in Kano state had ordered a quarantine of all farms with mass bird deaths, but officials would not destroy the flocks until tests confirm the presence of H5N1. Otherwise, "people might take advantage" of compensation being offered to farmers, one official said.
International help expected
The United States has pledged $25 million to help contain the virus, according to the AP and Reuters reports.
Ajaikaye told AFP a US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention team based in Kenya was expected to come to Nigeria and set up a laboratory. The team is to bring 2,000 protective suits for health and veterinary workers, he said.
Experts from the FAO, the WHO, and the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) were expected to travel to Nigeria tomorrow to help, the AP quoted the OIE's Alex Thiermann as saying.
The WHO's Lee said in his statement, "The single most important public health priority at this stage is to warn people about the dangers of close contact with sick or dead birds infected with H5N1."
He said the WHO is offering to help the Nigerian government in a public information campaign, possibly by giving messages about bird flu during a nationwide, house-to-house polio immunization campaign scheduled to begin Feb 11.
Lee noted that African health systems are already struggling to cope with HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, and other diseases. "We simply do not know what the impact of exposure to avian influenza will be on the many people who may be already immunocompromised and in a fragile state of health," he said.
Greece reports infected swans
In other developments, three swans found dead in northern Greece tested positive for an H5 virus, possibly signaling H5N1's arrival in the country, according to an AFP report today.
Greece has had no confirmed outbreaks of H5N1 so far. Last October there was a report of an H5 virus in some turkeys on a Greek island, but the findings apparently were never confirmed. At this writing, the OIE Web site showed no reports of H5 avian flu in Greece.
Two of the infected swans were found in the northern port city of Salonika, and the third came from the prefecture of Pieria, according to officials quoted by AFP.
The Greek agriculture ministry said a European Union–certified laboratory in Salonika had detected H5 viruses in samples from the three swans, which were among 52 birds tested, AFP reported.
The samples have been sent to a London lab for to determine whether the virus is H5N1, officials told AFP.
Earlier this week, a swan infected with an H5 virus was reported in Bulgaria, which adjoins northeastern Greece.
Feb 9 statement by WHO Director-General Lee Jong-wook
Feb 8 FAO statement