Government Agencies Cautious About Declaring Victory Over Avian Flu in Asia

WASHINGTON, ROME and PARIS -- Asian countries that

declare victory over avian influenza should base such statements on in-depth

investigations, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) urged in a joint statement late last week.

The OIE and FAO are ready to provide international experts to assess the

epidemiological situation, the two organizations said.

"Collaboration between countries and the international community is

essential to ensure that the avian influenza virus really is under control and

that effective preventive and control measures have been put in place in each

affected country and its neighbors," the FAO and OIE said.

More than three months after the outbreak of avian influenza in several Asian

countries, with 23 human deaths in Thailand and Viet Nam, the situation has

improved in China, Thailand and Viet Nam, according to the two organizations.

Further outbreaks could flare up

"The crisis is still not over," the FAO and OIE warned. "In countries such as

Indonesia, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand, further outbreaks could still flare

up. The virus could spread again within and between countries. As long as

the H5N1 virus is not fully under control, the potential threat to human

health remains."

All affected countries have designed national control campaigns according

to their needs. "This is an important first-line of defense against the

virus, which needs to be further strengthened," the FAO and OIE said.

In particular, appropriate precautionary measures have to be put in place

to ensure that infected zones become free from infection and remain so.

Before countries resume restocking, they must apply strong surveillance and

biosecurity measures, to ensure that potential new infections are discovered

and contained immediately, the FAO and OIE said.

The absence of the virus has to be proved by virus search and serological

surveys. In countries applying vaccination programs, non-vaccinated

susceptible chickens, so-called "sentinel animals," should be used. The

movement of poultry and contaminated goods must be carefully monitored to

avoid the reintroduction of the virus from affected areas. Contact between

wild and domestic birds has to be minimized.

According to OIE international standards, countries can claim to be free

from avian influenza under certain conditions and in any case six months after

the occurrence of the last outbreak.

The FAO and OIE also called for further investigation into how the epidemic

started. "To avoid future outbreaks, we need a clear understanding of how the

disease began."

To date, at least 100 million birds have died or have been culled to

control the disease.

Source: U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization

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