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Bird flu outbreak in Nigeria, Africa at high risk

Bird flu outbreak in Nigeria shows Africa at high risk from disease – UN agency

An outbreak of the deadly bird flu virus in Nigeria shows that the rest of Africa is in danger from the disease, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned today, calling for urgent action to stop the spread of the virus.

FAO said in a statement that along with the World Organization for Animal Health it would now send veterinary experts to the West African country to assess the situation and examine how the virus got there.

“The outbreak in Kaduna state in Northern Nigeria proves that no country is risk-free and that we are facing a serious international crisis,” said Samuel Jutzi, Director of FAO’s Animal Production and Health Division.

“If the situation in Nigeria gets out of control, it will have a devastating impact on the poultry population in the region, it will seriously damage the livelihoods of millions of people and it will increase the exposure of humans to the virus,” Mr. Jutzi added.

Nigeria has an important commercial poultry sector and millions of backyard poultry farmers. The poultry population is estimated at 140 million.

The origins of the spread are not yet known. “It remains unclear if the outbreak has been triggered by migratory birds or by the trade and movement of poultry or poultry products,” said Joseph Domenech, FAO Chief Veterinary Officer.

The Rome-based agency urged veterinary services in Nigeria to eliminate the outbreaks through immediate humane culling and to strictly control the movement of people and animals to and from places contaminated with bird flu. It said it would also send two local experts to the affected region to advise authorities there on control measures.

Transparency, rapid interventions and close collaboration with the international community are crucial to stop the spread of the virus, FAO added.

“We are aware that veterinary services in Nigeria are in need of international support. The animal health infrastructure in the country is facing a big challenge and will require outside assistance,” Mr. Domenech said. Laboratory materials for diagnosis and protective equipment for veterinarians undertaking investigation are urgently required.

During the last two years, several countries have reported outbreaks of avian influenza caused by the H5N1 virus in people, and close to 100 have died, most of them in Viet Nam. In addition more than 140 million chickens have been slaughtered in an effort to contain the disease. So far, the virus has only spread from infected animals to humans, but the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that it could change into a form that spreads easily from person to person, triggering an influenza pandemic that could kill tens of millions of people worldwide.

Last month, donors pledged $1.9 billion to fight the spread of the disease, and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called for a massive, coordinated international response to the virus.

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