Two more countries find H5N1; 3 others probe bird deaths

Feb 27, 2006 (CIDRAP News) – The H5N1 avian influenza virus has spread to Niger and Bosnia-Herzegovina, media outlets said today, and testing is under way on birds found dead in Switzerland, Pakistan, and Kenya.

The suspected H5N1 infections of two wild swans found dead in central Bosnia were confirmed today, according to Reuters new service, which attributed the announcement to Bosnia's veterinary administration. About 4,500 poultry were slaughtered and buried within 3 kilometers of Malo Plivsko Lake, Reuters said.

Additional birds are being tested, added Jozo Bagaric, head of the veterinary administration. Bosnia sits on a migration route used by birds from central and northern Europe, and Bagaric said the country is bracing for more cases.

"Based on the risk analyses, we think that March is a critical period and we expect . . . new incidents in the future," Bagaric said.

Elsewhere in Europe, Switzerland has confirmed that a wild duck found dead in Geneva yesterday tested positive for an H5 virus, but the neuraminidase (N) type had not yet been identified, Bloomberg News reported. It is the first suspected avian flu case found in Switzerland

Niger joins Egypt and neighboring Nigeria on the leading edge of Africa's fight against the virus. Dead ducks found in the southern Niger town of Magaria had the H5N1 virus, which was also isolated from bird in the area of Dan Barde, said Maria Zampaglione, a spokeswoman for the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), as quoted in a Bloomberg report today.

Authorities in Niger are using teachers and Muslim preachers to teach citizens how to protect themselves, Reuters reported today.

"Every child who is taught how to protect themselves can in turn educate their parents," said Ary Ibrahim, public health minister.

Kenya could become the fourth African country with H5N1, if authorities' fears prove true. About 400 dead chickens were found in a residential area of Nairobi called Kasarani over the weekend, according to Agence France-Presse (AFP). They were apparently dumped in that neighborhood. Catherine Wanjohi, deputy director of veterinary services in Kenya, told AFP that samples from the dead chickens are being tested, with results expected this week.

In Pakistan, authorities have confirmed the presence of an H5 virus and quarantined two farms in Abbotabad, 80 miles north of Islamabad, and in Charsadda, 75 miles northwest of Islamabad, according to Reuters. Both farms are in the country's North West Frontier Province, Bloomberg reported.

Pakistani authorities, however, claim the virus is a low-pathogenicity subtype. Neuraminidase testing is under way, Reuters noted.

"We have not ruled out that it is H5N1 but it appears to be a low-pathogenic strain," said Mohammad Afzal, agriculture minister, as quoted today by AFP.

Pakistani police sealed off the farms and slaughtered about 25,000 chickens, AFP added. In addition, the agency quoted a supervisor from one of the farms as saying that about 2,000 laying hens had died in the past week, but he termed that a normal rate.

Outbreaks worsen in several countries
Other countries were dealing with the grim challenges posed by the spread of the H5N1 virus within their borders.

The disease has been confirmed in 9 of 36 states in Nigeria, including Yobe and Nasarawa states, Bloomberg reported today.

While the government weighed whether to vaccinate poultry, Nigerian farms prepared to receive their first shipment of poultry vaccine this week—1 million doses coming from Israel, Bloomberg reported.

"We have been calling for the vaccine right from the beginning," said Auwalu Haruna, secretary of Nigeria's poultry association. "We can't keep waiting for the government."

Haruna, who has about 17,000 birds near Kano City, also advocated culling backyard poultry, such as the roughly 500,000 backyard birds raised in Kano, Bloomberg noted.

In a separate story that included other quotes from Haruna, Bloomberg reported that farmers are reluctant to report avian flu outbreaks, in part because they don't trust the government's promises for compensation.

"The key to curbing this problem is for people to know their livelihoods are safe," Haruna said. "If that's not done, people won't report."

Nigeria's outbreak is of major concern because of the human and poultry density, said Joseph Domenech, chief veterinary officer with the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), according to a Bloomberg story published today. The country has about one bird for each of its 140 million residents, and 60% of the birds are backyard stock.

"It's very difficult to kill all the animals" infected by the virus, Domenech said.

In addition, compensation for culled birds is about US $1.94 per chicken, about one-fourth of its market value.

Nigeria's National Bureau of Statistics estimates that 54% of the country's people couldn't afford to buy a food basket that would provide them with 2,900 calories a day, Bloomberg reported.

Europe has continued to find more cases of H5N1 in several countries recently:

  • In Germany, avian flu has been found in a fourth state (Brandenburg, which borders Poland), according to a Reuters report.
  • In Romania, avian flu has now been found in 34 villages across the country and at a small Black Sea resort called Navodari, Reuters reported.
  • In France, H5N1 has been confirmed as the culprit in the overnight deaths of 400 turkeys last week, marking Europe's first outbreak on a commercial farm. The outbreak led to the Feb 23 culling of a flock of 11,700 56-day-old turkeys, according to an OIE report. "It struck like lightning," farmer Daniel Clair said of the outbreak on his farm, as reported in the Guardian newspaper today.

Across Asia, the struggles against H5N1 also continue:

  • A Feb 23 FAO report notes that five serum samples drawn from one of three flocks of sentinel ducks in Kampong Cham province around Boeung Thom Lake in Cambodia in January tested positive for H5N1. Cambodia, which had four fatal H5N1 infections in people during last year's flu season, has not reported a poultry outbreak to the OIE since March 28, 2005.
  • In Gujarat state in India, two chickens found dead at a poultry farm were infected with H5N1, according to an Associated Press (AP) report. They were found at the national Poultry Farm. Gujarat is northwest of Maharashtra state, which had earlier found H5N1 outbreaks. The same story reported that 200,000 poultry had been culled in India since Feb 19.
  • An official in China has warned that the country could face massive avian flu outbreaks, according to a Feb 25 Reuters story. Agriculture Minister Du Qinglin said the country culled 23 million birds in 2005, of which 163,000 were found to have H5N1, Reuters reported in remarks attributed to Xinhua, China's official news service. Because of the increase in cases involving migratory birds, the possibility of a massive bird flu outbreak cannot be ruled out, Du said.
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