FAO: recent spread of H5N1 doesn't match last year's

Jan 23, 2007 (CIDRAP News) – The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said today that recent poultry outbreaks of H5N1 avian influenza have been less extensive than those a year ago but warned that many are going unreported.

In a news release, the agency expressed concern about recent outbreaks in China, Egypt, Indonesia, Japan, Nigeria, South Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam, but said, "The number of outbreaks in the first weeks of 2007 has been significantly lower than the epidemic waves of last year."

In late 2005 and early 2006, the virus spread from East Asia to Siberia, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, reaching more than 40 countries, the FAO noted. This pattern of intercontinental spread has not been repeated in recent months.

"It seemed that the intercontinental spread of the H5N1 virus by wild birds migrating from Asia to Europe and Africa had not taken place during this season at the same level as it had in 2005," the agency said. "However, poultry trade and the transport of live birds could still spread the virus."

"So far many countries have managed to control the virus and the international situation has progressively improved," said Juan Lubroth, a senior officer in the FAO's Animal Health Service, at a Bangkok news conference today, according to the FAO. "Recent outbreaks are following a seasonal pattern and do not come as a great surprise. But we need to remain on the alert as the recent outbreaks show."

Calling on governments to increase their surveillance, Lubroth said, "Unfortunately, many outbreaks remain unreported. National and international bodies are often not in a position to immediately verify rumors or reports about unconfirmed outbreaks."

Lubroth warned that banning backyard poultry would lead to illegal poultry production. His warning came less than a week after the city government in Jakarta, Indonesia, announced that backyard poultry would be banned as of Feb 1 in an effort to control avian flu.

"Implementing and controlling these bans will be very difficult to achieve," because farmers will tend to hide their animals, Lubroth said. Instead of banning production, he added, authorities should encourage farmers to participate in virus control and vaccination campaigns.

Given the prevalence of avian flu in Indonesia, the FAO has suggested vaccination of chicks before they leave hatcheries, plus mass vaccination in heavily infected areas, the statement noted.

The FAO statement came as a new poultry outbreak was reported in Thailand and suspected outbreaks were reported in Japan and Hungary.

The H5N1 virus was confirmed as the cause of death for about 200 chickens in the northeastern Thai province of Nong Khai, according to a report today in the Bangkok newspaper The Nation. The story cited a government veterinarian as its source.

Last week Thailand reported its first poultry outbreak in 6 months, involving ducks in the northern province of Phitsanulok.

In Japan, avian flu was suspected in the deaths of 569 chickens in Hyuga, in Miyazaki prefecture on the southern island of Kyushu, according to an Agence France-Presse (AFP) report today. One of 11 tested birds was positive for avian flu, but it was not yet known if it had the deadly H5N1 virus.

An H5N1 outbreak elsewhere in the same province—Japan's first in nearly 3 years—was reported Jan 13. The virus killed 3,900 chickens, and another 8,100 were destroyed to contain the outbreak, AFP reported.

In Hungary, authorities were destroying 3,300 geese on a farm where some birds died of suspected avian flu, according to a Reuters report today. Local residents said a large flock of wild ducks had passed through the area last month, a veterinary official reported. Hungary had an outbreak in June 2006 that led to the culling of a million birds, the story noted.

Meanwhile, three more people were hospitalized for treatment of suspected avian flu in Indonesia, according to a Jakarta Post report today. And in Thailand, The Nation reported that a 4-year-old was hospitalized with a suspected case.

See also:

Jan 23 FAO news release

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