FAO says avian flu entrenched as new outbreaks appear

Jun 27, 2007 (CIDRAP News) – The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today said H5N1 avian influenza virus is entrenched in some places and will continue to spread, despite improved control efforts.

As if to underscore the message, new poultry outbreaks were reported today in the Czech Republic and Bangladesh, and more wild birds were reported infected in Germany.

Joseph Domenech, the FAO's chief veterinary officer, said the response to the virus has improved significantly over the past 3 years, but it remains entrenched in several countries and will continue to spread, according to an FAO news release.

Domenech spoke at a press conference in Rome on the first day of the Technical Meeting on Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza and Human H5N1 Infection, which continues through Jun 29. The meeting was organized by the FAO and several other international agencies.

He said that except in Egypt and Indonesia, human H5N1 cases have been very sporadic. "This achievement is the most important demonstration of the effects of worldwide efforts to contain the H5N1 virus," he said.

In the approximately 15 countries in Asia, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East where the virus has cropped up in the past 6 months, it was rapidly detected and eliminated or controlled, Domenech said.

"Most countries have been very open about new outbreaks," he said. "They are better prepared today and have improved their response systems."

But Domenech cited the recent H5N1 outbreaks in birds in Bangladesh, Ghana, Togo, the Czech Republic, and Germany as illustrations of the need to shun complacency. The threat of a human flu pandemic can't be ruled out as long as the disease persists in poultry, he said.

He said containment and eradication of the virus will demand a long-term financial and political commitment, especially in the face of the "high risk poultry production and marketing practices that still continue in many countries." For example, Indonesia has more than 13,000 live poultry markets where birds from different places are brought together.

Domenech also called for increased monitoring of the virus, especially in countries that vaccinate poultry.

"The H5N1 virus is not stable and keeps constantly changing. On one occasion in China last year a new virus strain appered with different immunologic characteristics which made it necessary to modify vaccines used in the region concerned," he said. "This emergence of a new strain may have happened again more recently in Indonesia."

Domenech's warnings come a few days after experts at a flu meeting in Toronto last week voiced worries that the public is losing interest in avian flu, which could cause funds for fighting the disease to dry up.

In the Czech Republic, meanwhile, another H5N1 outbreak in poultry was reported near the town where the country's first poultry was reported last week, according to a Deutsche Presse Agentur (DPA) report today.

Sixty broiler chickens in a flock of 27,800 on a commercial farm in the village of Norin tested positive for H5N1, the report said. The village is about 4 kilometers from Tisova, the site of the outbreak reported on a turkey farm last week. Both farms are owned by the same company, DPA reported.

The whole flock on the Norin farm was to be destroyed, along with other birds owned by Norin residents, the story said.

In Bangladesh, avian flu was reported in another district, forcing the culling of 5,000 chickens, according to a Reuters report today. Abdul Motalib of the fisheries and livestock ministry said the outbreak was in a village in Thakurgaon district, 500 km northwest of the capital, Dhaka.

The virus was first found near Dhaka, in central Bangladesh, in March and has since spread to northern regions, the story said. Sixteen of 64 districts have been affected.

In Germany, three wild swans in Leipzig in the eastern state of Saxony tested positive for H5N1 yesterday, according to another Reuters report today. Those cases follow the discovery of six infected wild birds last weekend in the southern city of Nuremberg. The latter marked the country's first cases since August 2006, when a swan in the Dresden zoo was found infected.

Agriculture Minister Horst Seehofer said the virus's reemergence in wild birds "has surprised us in terms of the time," according to the story.

German authorities said they were comparing the viruses from the wild birds with those from outbreaks in Hungary and the Czech Republic in an effort to learn how the virus entered the country.

See also:

Jun 27 FAO news release
http://www.fao.org/newsroom/en/news/2007/1000615/index.html

Jun 26 FAO statement on avian flu technical meeting
http://www.fao.org/avianflu/news/tech_meet.html

Jun 21 CIDRAP News story "Animal-health experts fear loss of interest in avian flu"

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