Unprecedented Avian Influenza Outbreak in Asia

Article excerpt

Public health officials in several countries are alarmed by the outbreaks of the highly pathogenic avian influenza in poultry in Asia and are concerned that the situation could, if not tackled now, lead to an epidemic in humans. The first outbreak of the avian influenza A (H5N1) strain was confirmed in the Republic of Korea on 12 December 2003. As of 25 February 2004, there were also confirmed reports in Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Japan, Lao People's Democratic Republic. Thailand and Viet Nam. Hong Kong has also reported finding the virus in a dead peregrine. The outbreak is historically unprecedented in its scale, geographical spread and economic consequences for the agricultural sector. The presence of H5N1 in humans was confirmed in laboratory results received on 11 January from samples taken from two children and one adult with severe respiratory illness, who were admitted to the hospital in Hanoi. As of 27 February, the number of laboratory-confirmed cases in Viet Nam was 23, of which 15 were fatal. In Thailand, 7 of 10 confirmed cases were fatal. No cases were reported in China.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) on 30 January said that the success of eradicating avian influenza in the affected countries depends heavily on mass culling. "We are, however, concerned that mass cullings are not taking place at a speed we consider absolutely necessary to contain the H5N1 virus in the region Compensation is often a limiting factor. As long as small farmers and commercial producers, especially in poorer countries, do not receive an adequate financial incentive for killing their chickens, they will probably not apply suggested emergency measures", said Hans Wagner, FAO senior animal production and health officer Poorer countries, in particular, need international financial assistance and advice to address the problem. As of 25 February, an estimated 100 million birds had died or been culled during the campaign against the avian flu.

At an emergency meeting of experts on 3 and 4 February, recommendations to control the further spread of the epidemic were issued, including a targeted vaccination campaign for poultry in heavily-affected countries, to avoid mass culling outside the infected areas and damaging the livelihoods of rural households and national economies. "Culling infected flocks remains the recommended response when the disease is detected. Vaccination, when used with other control measures, such as market and movement management and good agricultural practices, offers a suitable means to support the suppression of the further spread of the virus", said Joseph Domenech. Chief of the FAO Animal Health Service. …