FAO Urges Nigeria to Increase Bird Flu Control Measures
FAO has urged Nigeria to increase control measures on poultry farms and markets to prevent the spread of avian influenza and reduce the risk of further human cases.
A statement issued after a mission to Nigeria said that the virus is still circulating in poultry flocks in the country with outbreaks reported in at least 10 states over the past few months.
The virus probably spread along major trade routes within Nigeria placing neighbouring countries at risk by birds moved informally across borders. Increased surveillance could ensure that countries detect an incursion of disease without delay.
"The first confirmed case of H5N1 infection in humans in Nigeria shows that there is a continuing danger of human exposure to the virus from high-risk practices, such as handling sick or dead chickens, and especially from unsafe slaughtering of poultry at home or in markets," said Joseph Domenech, FAO Chief Veterinary Officer.
Cases of human infection have occurred in all countries with a similar occurrence of the disease in poultry. "The first human case is therefore not unexpected and should not suggest that there is an increased risk for humans. However, it does emphasize the need to increase control of H5N1 in poultry," Domenech said.
Poultry are brought into Lagos markets from all over the country, including from states that have suffered H5N1 outbreaks.
Lagos is the biggest city in Nigeria with about nine million inhabitants. It is therefore not surprising that people buying chickens in markets and slaughtering them at home may be exposed to infection. Even where poultry are slaughtered in markets, hygiene conditions are very poor.
FAO is supporting the government to increase active disease search to better understand the spread and incidence of the disease to identify high-risk areas. Understanding how the virus circulates is essential for good control plans.
FAO stressed the need to reduce the risk of infections in humans through control measures in markets, such as veterinary inspections, improved hygiene and the discouraging of home slaughter. Home slaughtering is very common in Nigeria as in many other African countries.
Consumption of poultry is safe if it does not come from outbreak areas and is properly cooked. Slaughtering or preparation should be undertaken with basic hygiene measures such as washing hands, knives and surfaces.
Prevention and control
Farmers should introduce strict procedures to prevent the disease from entering their farms including disinfection of all materials coming onto their property. Contact between poultry and wild birds should be prevented. New poultry for rearing should come only from sources that are guaranteed to be free from avian influenza.
Nigeria is encouraged to seriously consider targeted vaccination of poultry where appropriate, using quality vaccines and applying strict monitoring procedures.
Improved control of the disease in Nigeria requires close cooperation between public veterinary services and private industry.
FAO is increasing its technical support to the country in expert advice, supplies and equipment to help bring the disease under control, which will not be an easy task. The agency has also launched an active disease surveillance programme funded by the European Union.
Nigeria produced around 150 million live chickens in 2005. Sixty percent of the chickens are kept in backyard flocks. The commercial sector accounts for 25 percent of production and the semi-commercial sector for 15 percent.
Approximately 300 000 poultry have died due to H5N1 and another 400 000 have been culled as part of control measures. Affected species include chickens, ostrich, ducks, pigeons, turkeys, and geese.