Experts allay fears over bird flu outbreak

EVEN as red flags were raised in Lagos and Kano States over outbreak of Avian Influenza, popularly known as bird flu, at the weekend, experts have allayed fears over safety of poultry meats and another epidemic outbreak in the class of the deadly Ebola Virus Disease.

   Not denying the problem though, the experts advised on the need for correct hygiene practices and proper cooking of poultry meats to prevent disease spread.

  Chairman, Nigeria Veterinary Medical Association (NVMA), Lagos State chapter, Dr Alao Mobolaji, said it was safe to consume chicken and other poultry as long as it is properly handled and well cooked.

  Lagos State Commissioner for Agriculture and Cooperative,  Gbolahan Lawal had disclosed that during the last Christmas and New Year festivities, the Veterinary Department of the Lagos State Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives received a report of high mortalities of birds in poultry markets across the state.

   Bird samples collected by the department and sent to the National Veterinary Research Institute in Vom, Plateau State, were found positive for the H5 strain of the Avian Influenza popularly known as bird flu.

  According to Lawal, samples collected from a poultry farm in Badore had also been confirmed positive and a Zoological park based in Victoria Garden City presently experiencing high mortality of wild birds in captivity is on the suspicion list and it is being investigated.

  Avian influenza (AI), commonly called bird flu, is an infectious viral disease of birds. Most avian influenza viruses do not infect humans; however some, such as A(H5N1) and A(H7N9), have caused serious infections in people.

   Mobolaji, however, said: “I can assure you that we have been able to contain it since it was reported. The farm that this broke out has been quarantined and they have destroyed the chickens in that particular farm.

  “Basically, all the veterinary institutions within the state have stepped up to contain the disease and when I say stepped up, I mean proper security has been set up in all chicken markets in the state as much as possible.

  “Our members have been put on alert and the farmers place on advisory alert as well to prevent the spread of the disease so that it does not escalate,” he said.

  Noting that last week’s incidence in the two states was not unusual, he explained that the rate at which the disease had been emerging and re-emerging is something to talk about.

  Mobolaji observed that the last time such case occurred was around 2006 and it took a while to contain it. “The alertness of Ebola has helped us to quickly attend to this one too as much as possible.

  “This is also expected in the state of globalisation, urbanisation which is on the rise. Increasing the proximity of animal and human being is on the rise and need to be taken serious because human and animal are sharing quarters.”

   Stressing that chicken is safe, Mobolaji urged people not to panic, adding: “People should not panic; people should consume chicken like they consume it normally.”

  Commissioner for Health, Dr. Jide Idris, had also assured that there was no cause for alarm and advised Lagosians to embrace basic hygiene to prevent contracting or spread of the disease.

  Idris said people should endeavour to cook their meats properly before eating and report cases of mortality in birds in any area to the government.

  According to reports, the outbreak started on January 2 at Karna in the district of Dala in Kano state in the north of the country. Of the backyard flock of 1,568 birds – comprising 22-week-old layers, 10-week-old growers and four-week-old broilers – 1,370 died and the rest were destroyed. The last outbreak of avian flu in Nigeria was in July 2008.

 According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) outbreaks of AI in poultry may raise global public health concerns due to their effect on poultry populations, their potential to cause serious disease in people, and their pandemic potential. Reports of highly pathogenic AI epidemics in poultry, such as A(H5N1), can seriously impact local and global economies and international trade.

  The body said majority of human cases of A(H5N1) and A(H7N9) infection have been associated with direct or indirect contact with infected live or dead poultry as there is no evidence that the disease can be spread to people through properly cooked food.

  The WHO said controlling the disease in animals is the first step in decreasing risks to humans. AI viruses can sometimes spread to domestic poultry and cause large-scale outbreaks of serious disease. Some of these AI viruses have also been reported to cross the species barrier and cause disease or sub-clinical infections in humans and other mammals.

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