Nigeria has Africa's first H5N1 bird flu outbreak

Feb 8, 2006 (CIDRAP News) – The H5N1 virus has materialized deep in Africa, killing about 40,000 poultry on a commercial farm in northern Nigeria, according to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).

Tests at an OIE reference laboratory in Padova, Italy, yesterday confirmed the presence of H5N1 as the culprit in an outbreak that began nearly a month ago, on Jan 10, the OIE report said.

The virus was found in samples drawn Jan 16 from a farm in Jaji, in the northern state of Kaduna, the Associated Press (AP) reported. The Italian Health Ministry said the strain confirmed there is similar to strains found in Siberia and Mongolia in 2005, the AP said.

The Jaji farm is the only confirmed outbreak site so far, the World Health Organization (WHO) said in a statement today. "Investigations are urgently needed to determine whether the outbreak, which began almost a month ago, has spread from the farm to affect household flocks," the agency said.

"Poultry deaths in the adjacent province of Kano have been reported, but the cause has not yet been determined," the WHO added.

Although published reports conflict, the AP quoted Salihu Jibrin, head of the Kano state's livestock department, as saying that at least 60,000 birds have died there in recent weeks. Testing was being conducted, but officials told the AP today that no signs of avian flu had been found.

Another source, South Africa's Independent Online, reported yesterday that poultry began dying in unusually high numbers last weekend at the Sovat farm in Danbare village in Kano.

The OIE is sending a team to Jaji in Kaduna state to assist in government quarantine efforts, Bloomberg News reported today.

The arrival of H5N1 in Nigeria realizes one of the worst fears of experts, who have long warned that the spread of the virus into Africa could greatly complicate containment efforts. Backyard poultry live in close contact with people in many parts of Africa.

"In Nigeria, as in other parts of Africa, most village households maintain free-ranging flocks of poultry as a source of income and food," the WHO said. "Close human contact with poultry is extensive."

The primary public health need is to reduce the risk of human infections by preventing contact with diseased or dead household poultry, the WHO said. If the virus has spread to household flocks, people will need to be warned to avoid risky behavior, such as slaughtering sick poultry.

The WHO said no clear information about the source of the Nigerian outbreak was available, but the country lies along a route for birds migrating from central Asia.

Full sequence information about the outbreak virus is expected later this week, the WHO said. The information should help authorities assess the risk to human health and may shed light on the source of the outbreak.

Authorities have expressed concerns about paying for and coordinating outreach, education, and other responses to avian flu in resource-strapped African countries, many of which are already battling hunger, HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, and other diseases.

Nigeria, which has 124 million people, has an average healthy life expectancy at birth of only 41 years, according to 2003 data from the WHO.

See also:

Feb 8 WHO statement on outbreak in Nigeria

OIE report on Nigerian outbreak

WHO profile of Nigeria

This week's top reads