Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia report first H5N1 outbreaks

Mar 23, 2007 (CIDRAP News) – Agriculture officials in Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia have confirmed outbreaks of H5N1 avian influenza in birds, a first for each country.

The outbreak in Bangladesh struck chickens at a state-run poultry farm in Savar, near the capital, Dhaka, the Associated Press (AP) reported today. Government sources said farm workers had recently culled all 30,000 chickens at the farm after many of them died mysteriously, the AP said.

Preliminary tests at local laboratories suggested in February that the chickens died of exotic Newcastle disease, a respiratory virus that is fatal to birds, but the government later sent samples to a lab in Thailand for more tests, the AP reported.

Bangladeshi Health Minister S. M. Matium Rahman told the AP that no human cases have been reported, but citizens have been put on alert. As a precaution, officials culled about 8,000 chickens today on five private farms near Dhaka.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said it would work closely with Bangladesh to curb the spread of the disease, and WHO representative Duangvadee Sungkhobol told reporters today there is no need to panic, because the outbreak has been handled very carefully, the AP story said.

The report said an H5N1 outbreak could devastate Bangladesh's poultry industry, which includes about 150,000 farms and does $750 million of business annually.

Saudi officials cite single outbreak
Meanwhile, the agriculture ministry in Saudi Arabia said yesterday that the H5N1 virus had been confirmed in samples obtained by a citizen in the eastern part of the country who reported several bird deaths at home earlier this month.

The Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said the outbreak involved turkeys, parrots, peacocks, and ostriches on private land, according to an AP story published today. An SPA statement said the birds were destroyed and the site was sterilized.

H5N1 avian flu has been reported in several countries near Saudi Arabia, including Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, and Sudan. Egypt has had 26 confirmed human cases since February 2006, half of them fatal.

Online records of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) show that H5N1 has been found in birds in about 60 countries, not counting Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh.

In other news this week, H5N1 has been found in crows in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan, according to a Reuters report yesterday. Up to 70 dead crows were found in and around the city recently, and 2 of 8 birds tested were found infected, the story said.

The virus first turned up in Pakistan in February 2006, prompting the culling of 40,000 birds in North West Frontier Province. The Islamabad zoo was temporarily closed last month after four peacocks and a goose died of the infection, according to the story.

In Myanmar, about 38,000 birds have been destroyed as a result of five outbreaks in Yangon, the capital, over the past 3 weeks, says a Mar 21 Agence France-Presse (AFP) report.

Three countries listed as weak links
Also this week, international officials at a meeting in Verona, Italy, listed Egypt, Indonesia, and Nigeria as the three countries least able to deal with H5N1 outbreaks in birds, according to a Mar 22 AFP report.

Bernard Vallat, head of the OIE, told AFP, "There are still three countries that are not capable of managing the situation: Indonesia, Egypt and Nigeria, which harbour reservoirs of the virus that can take off elsewhere."

Joseph Domenech, chief veterinarian for the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), told AFP, "The lack of a national strategy, the lack of political involvement and the disorganization of these countries mean that lots of outbreaks, as well as human cases of the disease, arise." He said he was most concerned about Indonesia.

However, the two officials said they don't expect to see as many bird outbreaks of H5N1 this year as occurred last year.

Vallat told AFP, "On the medical level you see a reduction in terms of viral quantity. The presence of the disease in the population of wild birds is lower than last year when there was a surge in the virus."

Wild birds may be growing more resistant to the virus, or the strain may be declining, Vallat said.

Domenech commented that most countries have gotten faster at detecting and responding to the virus, according to AFP. But he said it would be unrealistic to think that the virus can be eradicated soon, as it "continues to circulate and can reappear at any time."

See also:

Saudi Press Agency news release

OIE chart of countries with H5N1 outbreaks in birds

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