August 12, 2008

New Strain Of Bird Flu Discovered In Nigeria

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported on Monday the discovery of a new strain of the N5N1 avian influenza among birds in Africa.

The new strain is genetically different from those that circulated during the 2006 and 2007 Nigerian outbreaks.  

"It is more similar to strains previously identified in Europe (Italy), Asia (Afghanistan) and the Middle East (Iran) in 2007," said the FAO in a statement.

"The detection of a new avian influenza virus strain in Africa raises serious concerns as it remains unknown how this strain has been introduced to the continent," Scott Newman, International Wildlife Coordinator of FAO's Animal Health Service, told Reuters.

"It seems to be unlikely that wild birds have carried the strain to Africa, since the last migration of wild birds from Europe and Central Asia to Africa occurred in September 2007 and this year's southerly migration into Africa has not really started yet."

"It could well be that there are other channels for virus introduction: international trade, for example, or illegal and unreported movement of poultry. This increases the risk of avian influenza spread to other countries in Western Africa," he explained.

While avian flu is common, the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain that has swept through birds in parts of Europe, Africa and Asia is particularly troubling to doctors and poultry producers.  It has killed or forced the slaughter of some 300 million birds, an claimed the lives of 243 out of the 385 people known to have been infected, according to the World Health Organization.   Although people rarely become infected with the H5N1 strain, doctors fear the virus might mutate into a form that people could be easily caught and transmitted, causing a pandemic that could killed hundreds of millions.

"Uncertainty about virus spread and transmission is a major challenge for control campaigns. Increased surveillance is key to monitor the situation and keep track of virus spread," FAO chief veterinary officer Joseph Domenech told Reuters.

According to the WHO, H5N1 has become entrenched unlike any other form of bird flu. Nigeria recently reported a H5N1 outbreak among ducks and chickens in the northern cities of Kano and Katsina.  It was the first such outbreak in nearly 10 months.


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