Afghanistan confirms new H5N1 outbreaks

Feb 23, 2007 (CIDRAP News) – Afghanistan confirmed yesterday that poultry deaths at two farms in the eastern part of the country were caused by highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza.

The outbreak killed 73 backyard poultry, including turkeys, the country's veterinary chief wrote in a report submitted yesterday to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). The affected farms were in Nangahar and Kunar provinces, about 100 miles from Kabul, the capital. The OIE report said the outbreak began Feb 12.

Afghanistan's last confirmed outbreak occurred in April 2006; the country has reported no human H5N1 cases.

Meanwhile, in Russia H5N1 avian influenza has been detected in birds in more Moscow districts, bringing the total to eight, according to an Associated Press (AP) report published yesterday. The report quoted Nikolai Vlasov, head of Rosselkhoznadzor, Russia's agricultural oversight agency.

Vlasov said increased awareness about bird flu had produced a rush of calls from people reporting bird deaths.

Russia's Emergency Situations Ministry said on Feb 21 that at least 333 domestic birds had died since Feb 9 and that 1,833 more had been culled at eight locations outside Moscow, the AP report said.

In other avian flu news, European Union member states plus Iceland and Norway are 2 to 3 years away from being prepared for an influenza pandemic, according to a 39-page report released yesterday by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

ECDC Director Zsuzsanna Jakab said in a press release that health authorities in the EU have put major efforts into pandemic preparations since 2005. "This has been an almost unprecedented response to a threat that has yet to come," she said.

The member countries' pandemic preparation accomplishments, according to the report's executive summary, include producing and beginning to implement national preparedness plans and investing in influenza research. Some countries are building stockpiles of antiviral medications, and most have systems in place to detect and investigate initial cases of pandemic flu.

In addition, the EU and the World Health Organization (WHO) have collaborated on pandemic preparedness workshops and on standardizing methods of assessing preparedness. Also, the EU conducted a pandemic simulation exercise involving all members in November 2005.

The ECDC identified five key challenges for the years ahead, according to the report. They include integrating planning within countries, making national plans operational at the local level, coordinating plans between countries, improving prevention of seasonal flu, and expanding flu research from basic science into areas such as seasonal flu prevention and vaccine development.

"The challenge now is for governments and EU bodies to sustain the momentum for a further two or three years, to do the work identified in this report," Jakab said. "If this is done, then EU countries will be in a position to respond well to a pandemic."

See also:

OIE reports on Afghani outbreak

Feb 22 ECDC press release

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