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WASHINGTON and ROME -- The deadly H5N1 avian influenza virus continues to spread in poultry in Nigeria and could cause a regional disaster despite strong control efforts taken by the Nigerian authorities, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations said today.
"There is ample evidence that the Nigerian bird flu situation is difficult and worrisome," said Joseph Domenech, FAO's chief veterinary officer. "The movement and trade of poultry have strongly contributed to the further spread of the virus. The government has taken the right measures such as culling in outbreak areas and biosecurity controls, but the authorities are facing immense difficulties to enforce controls," Domenech said.
"Considering the possible widespread entrenchment of the disease in poultry, FAO is advising the government to prepare for a targeted vaccination campaign. Culling and the application of biosecurity measures alone may not stop the spread of the virus," he added.
Vaccination campaigns will require the mobilization of several thousand private and public Nigerian veterinarians and will need a strong commitment from the national and regional authorities and the support of the international donor community.
Such campaigns would require funds for vaccines, cars, vaccination teams, training etc. Surveillance teams should be able to carefully monitor the situation and intervene immediately when an outbreak occurs.
"The close coordination of control activities and the need for a central chain of command at the level of the federal Chief Veterinary Officer and between the regional states are crucial," Domenech said.
FAO and the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) in collaboration with the Inter-African Bureau for Animal Resources of the African Union are assisting the government in assessing the situation and defining the appropriate strategies to stop the spread of the disease. This includes building up strategic stocks of vaccines, syringes and protective gear for people involved in control operations. In addition, equipment such as generators for electricity supply, computers and laboratory equipment are urgently needed. The country has already established an avian influenza crisis center for the rapid collection and dissemination of information.
"Compensating farmers for the loss of their animals is another important tool to encourage early reporting of outbreaks and for effective application of control measures. Without financial incentives, people will probably continue to hide outbreaks and sell infected poultry," Domenech said.
FAO reiterated that people should avoid any contact with obviously diseased or dead birds, maintain personal hygiene (handwashing) after handling poultry or poultry meat and should cook chicken meat and eggs at or above 158 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the product, so that absolutely no meat remains raw and red. In outbreaks areas, chicken and eggs should not be eaten.
Massive communication campaigns are needed to support control efforts in poultry and reduce the potential exposure of people to infected poultry. FAO commended UNICEF for having initiated a communication campaign.
Nigeria's poultry population is estimated at 140 million. Backyard farmers account for 60 percent of all poultry producers, commercial farmers for 25 percent and semi-commercial farmers for 15 percent.
Source: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations