Bird flu prevention hampered by poor international coordination

By staff reporter

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Poultry Avian influenza Influenza Influenza pandemic

Measures to prevent avian influenza in poultry flocks could be
compromised by lax management, poor international coordination, and
a lack of funds, according to researchers.

As if to confirm the research, an EU official yesterday said the bloc's members need to appoint a special official to deal with the bird flu crisis and to coordinate efforts to contain the disease's spread.

Scientists worldwide are worried that the H5N1 form of the virus, which can be transmitted from poultry to humans, may mutate so that it can be transmitted from human to human and start a influenza pandemic. So far the virus has been transmitted from wild birds to domestic poultry and then to humans.

About 200 people have caught the disease and 115 have died worldwide since its onset in Asia in 2003, according to the World Health Organisation.

As a result the spread of the virus in the EU has heightened public fears about eating poultry Consumption of poultry meat has dropped by more than half in some EU states, with 300,000 tonnes now in storage across the bloc, according to EU estimates.

The new report, by Ilaria Capua and Dennis Alexander, is due to be published in the June 2006 issue of Avian Pathology, a UK journal. It also reveals a lack of understanding about how the virus could spread and questions the effectiveness of pre-emptive culling as a means of containing an outbreak.

"As this study identifies, a universal solution to the prevention and control of avian flu does not exist,"​ the two researchers stated. " A combination of different strategies must be used, on the basis of the characteristics of the poultry industry at risk, which differs around the world, and of the goals that can be reasonably achieved."

The most critical factor in preventing spread from an outbreak, and minimising the risk of it escalating into a pandemic, is early detection and the early intervention aimed at eradication, the report stated.

The researchers also propose an active surveillance of all flocks and calls for farmers to support such a programme by taking a more proactive approach to monitoring the health of their own flocks.

They also call on regulators to be more active in surveillance of all farm flocks to ensure effective detection at an early stage, as this could help to control the spread of the virus. Specifically, the report calls for farmers and private veterinarians to submit regular samples taken from their flocks for diagnosis, despite the fact that they can be reluctant to take part in such programmes because of the fear of restrictions.

The report calls for changes in the OIE (World Organisation for Animal Health) and EU legislation with particular reference to the notification of infection and the concept of compartmentalisation, which should represent a basis for managerial decisions in the poultry industry worldwide.

The report calls for more consistent guidance on the use of vaccines when it comes to containing outbreaks.

"At the moment, multiple approaches are being taken to applying vaccines to affected or at risk flocks,"​ the authors stated.

They recommend that global consensus is required between the responsible authorities to provide a more consistent approach to managing and tracking the effectiveness of the vaccines and the ways they are applied.

The report concludes that neither vaccination or stamping out policies are likely to be effective as a means of controlling the spread of the virus if applied in isolation, and that they must be used as part of a multiple approach to dealing with outbreaks.

Capua is head of the virology department at Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale delle Venezie in Padova, Italy. Alexander is an independent consultant virologist.

Yesterday an anonymous EU official told Reuters news service that the bloc's governments should each appoint a "bird flu tsar" to make sure they could cope with a flu pandemic and put preparations on a par with countries like the US.

If the EU was to deal effectively with a major flu outbreak, it would also have to look harder at immediate practical measures to be taken in each of the bloc's 25 countries, he said. Part of the problem was that EU's decision-making was too complicated because so many countries were involved in planning.

"The basic problem is that they (United States) now have one plan and we have 25,"​ the official was quoted as saying.

In other news about avian influenza, the EU yesterday extended its regionalised ban on Romanian poultry and poultry products. The ban will now include Brasov county and the four surrounding counties of Covasna, Harghita, Mures and Sibiu in central Romania.

The proposed decision was drafted following several confirmed cases and further suspected cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza in poultry flocks in Brasov over the weekend.

The regionalised ban on Romanian poultry and poultry products already applies to 26 counties, due to outbreaks of highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza which have occurred since October 2005.

Since the beginning of the recent avian flu crisis, consumption of poultry and eggs has fallen dramatically in some EU member states, leading to a sharp reduction in prices. In some countries, such as Italy, demand has fallen by up to 70 per cent, drastically lowering poultry farmers' incomes.

Today, the World Health Organisation confirmed six more human cases of bird flu infections in Indonesia, including five members of a family whose case has triggered fears of human-to-human transmission. One of the confirmed cases is still alive, WHO reported.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) reported that recent avian influenza outbreaks in Europe, the Middle East and Africa have caused dramatic swings in poultry consumption, increased trade bans and sharp price declines. The UN agency expects poultry consumption shocks this year in many countries.

"A steady erosion of previously expected gains in per caput poultry consumption will likely push down global poultry consumption in 2006, currently estimated at 81.8 million tonnes, nearly three million tonnes lower than the previous 2006 estimate of 84.6 million tonnes,"​ stated FAO commodity specialist Nancy Morgan.

According to the FAO report consumption shocks are ranging from a dramatic 70 per cent decline in Italy in mid-February to 20 per cent in France and 10 per cent in northern Europe.

The crisis has also affected the $42 billion dollar feed sector in Europe, with demand losses estimated at up to 40 per cent in some countries, the FAO stated.

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