UN agency urges vigilance as new outbreaks of bird flu are reported

UN agency urges vigilance as new outbreaks of bird flu are reported

Despite fewer bird flu outbreaks in the first weeks of this year versus 2006, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today strongly advised countries to remain on high alert and cooperate with international organizations as the deadly virus continues to be destructive for farmers.

Despite fewer bird flu outbreaks in the first weeks of this year versus 2006, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today strongly advised countries to remain on high alert and cooperate with international organizations as the deadly virus continues to be destructive for farmers.

Eight countries – China, Egypt, Indonesia, Japan, Nigeria, South Korea, Thailand and Viet Nam – have reported new occurrences of avian flu since the beginning of the year.

“Recent outbreaks are following a seasonal pattern and do not come as a great surprise,” Juan Lubroth, Senior Officer of the FAO Animal Health Service, told reporters in Bangkok today.

“But we need to remain on the alert as the recent outbreaks show,” he added. “It is crucial that countries themselves step up their surveillance, detection and rapid response measures.”

There is a lower instance of wild birds spreading the H5N1virus while migrating from Asia to Europe and Africa this winter season as opposed to the last. However, the poultry trade and transport of live birds, especially during upcoming holidays such as Tet and Eid, could result in further epidemics.

The FAO also expressed concern about unreported cases. “Only immediate reporting of any suspected bird flu outbreak makes possible rapid intervention by farmers and veterinarians,” Mr. Luboth said, urging absolute transparency about new cases of the disease.

To successfully combat avian flu, farmers must be vigilant in reporting new cases and remuneration policies must be established to protect farmers against outbreaks, he said.

It is estimated that it will take several years before the H5N1 is eliminated from the poultry industry, according to FAO, which warned that this will require a firm commitment from governments, poultry farmers and the international community.

Ever since the first human case of H5N1, linked to widespread poultry outbreaks in Viet Nam and Thailand, was reported in January 2004, UN health officials have warned that the virus could evolve into a human pandemic if it mutates into a form which could transmit easily between people.