African nations should be on high alert for bird flu

17Apr 2021
The Guardian
African nations should be on high alert for bird flu

Avian influenza, known informally as avian flu or bird flu, is a variety of influenza caused by viruses adapted to birds.  The type with the greatest risk is highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI).

Bird flu is similar to swine flu, dog flu, horse flu and human flu as an illness caused by strains of influenza viruses that have adapted to a specific host. Out of the three types of influenza viruses (A, B, and C), influenza A virus is a zoonotic infection with a natural reservoir almost entirely in birds.  Avian influenza, for most purposes, refers to the influenza A virus.

Though influenza A is adapted to birds, it can also stably adapt and sustain person-to-person transmission.  Recent influenza research into the genes of the Spanish flu virus shows it to have genes adapted from both human and avian strains. Pigs can also be infected with human, avian, and swine influenza viruses, allowing for mixtures of genes (reassortment) to create a new virus, which can cause an antigenic shift to a new influenza A virus subtype which most people have little to no immune protection agains

THE Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) has told African nations to be on high alert for bird flu after multiple outbreaks of the virus were reported in wild birds across Europe.

The FAO’s warning says that the disease has spread rapidly in Western Europe’s wild bird population. 70 cases have been reported across the UK, France, Germany and the Netherlands. Commercial poultry farms have also been affected by bird flu outbreaks. Since wild birds act as a reservoir for the virus and will soon begin migrating across Africa, the risk of transmission is growing.

 “FAO recommends countries in Africa to be on alert for incursion of H5 highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), following increasing reports from European countries of detections in wild birds over the past week.

“Countries and farms should have in place enhanced measures for prevention, early detection and diagnosis, and for outbreak response,” it said in a statement.

“Moreover, it is likely that the virus has already arrived in parts of West and North Africa but remained undetected so far,” it said.

The FAO is recommending that African nations increase disease surveillance efforts in wild birds and poultry and limit contact between domestic birds and wild flocks. The organization says to pay extra attention to shared sources of drinking water to prevent contamination. Previous bird flu outbreaks in 2017 threatened the livelihoods and food security of millions in Africa.

Recently  UK recorded two new outbreaks of avian influenza at a broiler farm and turkey breeding facility, renewing calls for poultry keepers to remain vigilant and keep their birds housed.

The UK’s Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) has confirmed an outbreak of H5N8 bid flu on a commercial broiler farm near Uttoxeter, East Staffordshire. The agency has also identified an outbreak of H5N3 avian influenza in turkey breeders at a commercial premises near Winsford, Cheshire West and Chester. That outbreak has been confirmed as low pathogenic.

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