Bird flu: UN agency urges Nigeria to increase control measures to prevent spread
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has urged Nigeria to increase control measures on poultry farms, including targeted vaccination, and in markets to prevent the spread of bird flu and reduce the risk of further human cases in Africa’s most populous country and its spread to neighbouring countries.
In a statement issued after a mission to Nigeria, FAO said the virus is still circulating in poultry flocks with outbreaks reported in at least 10 states over the past few months.
The virus probably spread along major trade routes, placing neighbouring countries at risk from birds moved informally across borders and increased surveillance could ensure that countries detect an incursion of disease without delay, it added.
“The first confirmed case of H5N1 infection in humans in Nigeria shows that there is a continuing danger of human exposure to the virus from high-risk practices, such as handling sick or dead chickens, and especially from unsafe slaughtering of poultry at home or in markets,” FAO Chief Veterinary Officer Joseph Domenech said.
Nigeria is so far the only sub-Saharan country to have reported a human bird flu fatality, its first and only case so far. The only other sub-Saharan country affected is Djibouti on the opposite, eastern side of the continent, with one non-fatal case, but Egypt to the north has so far suffered 22 cases, 13 of them fatal.
Poultry are brought to markets in Lagos, Nigeria’s biggest city with about 9 million inhabitants, from all over the country, including from states that have suffered H5N1 outbreaks. It is therefore not surprising that people buying chickens and slaughtering them at home may be exposed to infection. Even where poultry are slaughtered in markets, hygiene conditions are very poor.
FAO is increasing technical support to the country with expert advice, supplies and equipment to help bring the disease under control, and has launched an active disease surveillance programme funded by the European Union.
Consumption of poultry is safe if it does not come from outbreak areas and is properly cooked. Slaughtering or preparation should be undertaken with basic hygiene measures such as washing hands, knives and surfaces.
Farmers should introduce strict procedures to prevent the disease from entering their farms including disinfection of all materials coming onto their property. Contact between poultry and wild birds should be prevented. New poultry for rearing should come only from sources that are guaranteed to be free from avian influenza.
Some 300,000 poultry in Nigeria have died due to H5N1 and another 400,000 have been culled as part of control measures.
There have so far been 274 confirmed human cases worldwide, 167 of them fatal, the vast majority in South-East Asia. UN health officials have been on constant alert to detect any mutation that could make the disease more easily transmissible in humans and in a worst case scenario lead to a deadly pandemic. Nearly all human cases so far have been traced to contact with infected birds.
The so-called Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-1920 is estimated to have killed from 20 million to 40 million people worldwide.