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FAO: Avian influenza still a threat

Although concerted international action has successfully eliminated the deadly H5N1 avian influenza virus from poultry in almost all the 63 countries it infected at the peak of the world outbreak in 2006, it persists in 5 nations and thus poses a continuing threat to global animal and human health.

Speaking before the opening of an International Ministerial Conference on Animal and Pandemic Influenza in Hanoi, FAO’s Chief Veterinary Officer Dr Juan Lubroth said that despite the considerable success achieved against H5N1 it was entrenched in Egypt, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Vietnam and China. “The progressive control of H5N1 in such countries remains an international priority,” Lubroth said. “Though public attention shifted to the H1N1 influenza pandemic for most of 2009, H5N1 continues to be a serious menace."

He reminded that avian influenza has killed 292 humans, killed or forced the culling of more than 260 mln birds, caused an estimated $20 bln of economic damage across the globe and devastated livelihoods at the family-farm level. "As long as it is present in even one country, there is still a public health risk to be taken seriously," he said.

The H5N1 strain of avian influenza remains established in places where tens of millions of free-ranging domestic ducks are present, significant industrial broiler production exists together with live bird markets, and where human and animal densities are high, reports the FAO.

Lubroth noted that the very process of economic and population growth, including intensified agricultural production, fostered the emergence of new infectious diseases as ever larger numbers of animals and humans occupied delicate ecosystems.

FAO, WHO and the Paris-based World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), who led international efforts against H5N1, should take a leading role in finding a definitive solution to the problem. At the same time the three agencies should also collaborate to strengthen international defences against emerging infectious diseases, Lubroth added.

Source: FAO

Natalie Berkhout

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