Experts discuss lingering threat of bird flu

At a conference to discuss ways to prevent and control H5N1 bird flu virus in highly affected areas and in neighboring countries, an official from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) stated that Vietnam has reported the most number of bird flu cases.

Diep Kinh Tan, deputy minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, added at the three-day conference in Ho Chi Minh City on April 23, that infections have reduced in Vietnam thanks to it adopting effective preventive measures.

Diep Kinh Tan speaks at the conference ( Photo: Phuong Oanh)
Diep Kinh Tan speaks at the conference ( Photo: Phuong Oanh)

Vietnam has mobilised the entire state machinery, from the centre to the local level to fight the disease; besides also maintaining a close cooperation between the health and agriculture sectors, said Tan.

Tan expects that the conference will help formulate steps to take in the future and practical and effective options to adopt, to combat the disease. It is also important to continue to build strong national responses and effective regional and inter-country cooperation to address H5N1 and other potentially-serious zoonotic diseases.

Nine countries participated in the conference to discuss how to improve methods to prevent and control avian influenza amid continuing outbreaks and how best to address the on‐going evolution and geographic spread of new viral strains that are increasingly less responsive to existing vaccines and control measures.

Hosted by MARD and the Ministry of Health with support from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), this technical and policy level discussion for prevention and control of highly pathogenic avian influenza (H5N1) gathered senior officials from five highly‐affected countries such as Bangladesh, China, Egypt, Indonesia and Vietnam along with representatives from Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand.

Experts generally agreed that over the past ten years, more than 300 million poultry have been culled globally due to H5N1 highly pathogenic avian influenza. In addition, of the 602 human cases to-date, almost 60 per cent  have proven fatal. 

Participants from other governments along with international technical partners will share best practices and lessons learned from preventing and controlling H5N1 HPAI infections in poultry and humans.

In the past few years, a newer variant of the H5N1 virus, referred to as clade, has emerged and expanded its geographic range from Southeast Asia to Eastern Europe, East Asia and South Asia.

Some variants of clade are different from other H5N1 HPAI clades so that poultry vaccinations are becoming ineffective in some countries. Despite the fact that nearly all H5N1 human infections to-date appear to have been the result of transmission of the virus from poultry to people, the H5N1 virus is still considered a serious pandemic threat because of its continued presence in poultry in numerous countries, its tendency to quickly mutate and change, its ability to infect humans and its continuing high mortality rate. Experts estimate the average fatality rate at about 60 per cent.

Since a new variant of H5N1 HPAI virus first emerged in East Asia in 1996, more than 17,000 poultry outbreaks and 600 human infections have been reported from 62 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East. Through the course of this sustained avian pandemic, millions of chickens, ducks and other poultry have been culled, at considerable cost and disruption to farmers and consumers.

Given the public health, animal health and economic risks, it has become clear that in some countries, simply monitoring and controlling outbreaks in poultry is not enough.

According to the World Health Organization, during November 2010 to October 2011, 64 cases of humans infected with avian flu were reported with an average fatality rate of 52 per cent within developing countries. The H5N1 virus continues to reside primarily in the poultry population in up to 10 countries worldwide.

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