Feb 13, 2006 (CIDRAP News) – The H5N1 avian flu virus is continuing its relentless spread from bird to bird, with individual deaths in some countries marking new territory for the virus and massive die-offs and culling showing how quickly it can become entrenched.
The pathogen has been reported in wild birds in five new countries—Azerbaijan, Nigeria, Greece, Italy, and Bulgaria—in the past week. In addition, an H5 virus has been reported in Slovenia.
The H5N1 death toll among Nigerian poultry exceeds 150,000 birds on 30 farms in at least two states, Agence-France Presse (AFP) reported today. The information came from by Aminu Adamu, chairman of the Kano State Poultry Farmers' Association, which hosted a news conference to seek better compensation for the birds. At least two other states are suspected of harboring poultry infections as well.
The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) have urged Nigeria to close its poultry markets and stop transporting chickens, but little has happened, AFP reported.
FAO employees are traveling to Nigeria to help the government draft control measures, according to the UN's Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) news service. Meanwhile, the World Bank will make US $50 million in grants to Nigeria to fund the efforts.
Wild swans have tested positive for H5N1 in Italy and Greece in the past few days. Twenty-two wild swans with the virus were found dead in three southern regions of Italy, according to a story posted by the United Kingdom's news.telegraph web site. Reports late last week said three swans in Greece's Thessaloniki and Pieria areas had tested positive.
In addition, a wild swan found dead in Bulgaria has tested positive for H5N1, according to Bloomberg. Reports last week had said the swan had an H5 virus that was not dangerous to humans, but Bloomberg reported that a WHO laboratory near London has confirmed the virus was H5N1. Bulgaria produces 9% of the goose liver (foie gras) consumed in the European Union, the story noted.
In Greece, officials said poultry sales have dropped 95% since Feb 11 on the news that the infection had hit that country, Reuters reported today. An Italian farmers' group reported a drop of more than 50%. Overall, the European Union poultry market is worth about 20 billion Euros annually, or U.S. $23.8 billion.
Slovenia has found an H5 virus in a swan near Maribor, but news reports differed on whether the country or the WHO has confirmed the virus as H5N1. Reuters reported that a European Commission spokesman said "it is likely H5N1, but we don't have confirmation from Weybridge [the lab near London] yet." The swan was found within 10 kilometers of Austria, the story noted. Slovenia had set up a 3-km protection zone and a 10-km surveillance zone around where the swan was found.
As government workers fanned out in rural areas of Hong Kong, bird owners protested the loss of their now illegal backyard poultry flocks, Reuters reported today.
"Whoever says we cannot rear chickens should be damned," Lau Sau-foong told Reuters, adding that she had fainted twice from despair over the loss of her poultry. "I have treated those geese and chickens like my own children. After I wake up each morning I will feed them. Tell me, aren't they [government poultry cullers] torturing me mentally?"
Possible good news was announced on Feb 10, as a senior scientist with the WHO said a limited number of migratory birds seem to be spreading just one strain of the H5N1 virus, Reuters reported.
Michael Perdue, an epidemiologist with the WHO's global influenza program, said that, theoretically, this may reduce the chance for the virus to mutate into something that will spread easily among people.
"It could reduce the mutation level," he said. "You are less likely to have widespread mutation than if you had 20 strains hop-scotching across Asia. It also appears that the virus is relatively stable."
Reuters also quoted Perdue as saying, "It is very difficult to predict without knowing anything about the ecology of these migrating birds where the virus is going to show up next."
OIE report from Bulgaria
OIE report from Italy
OIE report from Slovenia
OIE report from Nigeria