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UN sends official to Niger to advise on bird flu

UN agency sends official to Niger to advise on controlling bird flu

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported today that it has sent a Regional Coordinator to advise Niger, one of the world’s poorest nations, on how to control the spread of the deadly bird flu virus.

The Regional Coordinator for the agency’s bird flu emergency projects in West Africa is scheduled to arrive in Niger today to review the African country’s surveillance and preparedness plans and advise the Government on its bird flu control campaign, the Secretary-General’s spokesman reported.

Last week, the FAO reported that 13 countries, including Nigeria in sub-Saharan Africa, have reported the occurrence of bird flu in wild and domestic birds since the beginning of the month, part of a recent pattern of rapid geographical spread of the virus, which in a worst case scenario could develop into a lethal human pandemic.

But apart from Iraq, none of the countries newly affected during February has reported human cases of the H5N1 virus, the World Health Organization (WHO) said. Iraq has reported two human cases, both of which were fatal; samples from several other patients are currently undergoing tests.

The 13 countries, listed in order of reporting, are Iraq, Nigeria, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, Slovenia, Iran, Austria, Germany, Egypt, India and France. Malaysia last week reported a fresh outbreak in poultry after having been considered free of the disease for more than a year.

Since the first reports of H5N1 in Asia at the end of 2003, 170 human cases have been reported, 92 of them fatal, mostly in South-East Asia and China. Nearly 200 million domestic poultry have died or been culled in order to contain the spread. The economic loss to the affected Asian countries has been estimated at around $10 billion.

UN health officials have warned that the virus could evolve into a lethal human pandemic if it mutates into a form which could transmit easily between people. Cases so far have been traced to infection directly from diseased birds. The so-called Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-1920 is estimated to have killed from 20 million to 40 million people worldwide.

The situation in the 13 recently-affected countries varies greatly. Most European countries with good veterinary surveillance have detected the virus in a small number of wild birds only, with no evidence to date of spread to domestic birds.

In Nigeria, as in India, the first cases were detected in large commercial farms, where the disease is highly visible and outbreaks are difficult to miss.

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