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Asian countries address lasting bird flu threat
Publication Date : 24-04-2012
Experts from countries hit hardest with the H5N1 virus have arrived in Ho Chi Minh City to discuss ways to prevent and control avian influenza amid continuing outbreaks.
The three-day conference that opened yesterday is addressing the evolution and geographic spread of new viral strains that are gradually responding less to existing vaccines and control measures.
Of the 602 human cases to date, nearly 60 per cent of them were fatal, the conference heard.
Over the past 10 years, more than 300 million poultry have been culled globally due to H5N1.
The technical and policy discussion for prevention and control of H5N1 HPAI (highly pathogenic avian influenza) is hosted by the government of Viet Nam with support from the US Agency for International Development.
It gathers senior officials from five highly affected countries, including Bangladesh, China, Egypt, Indonesia and Viet Nam, along with representatives from Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand that have also been affected by H5N1.
In the past few years, a newer variant of the H5N1 virus, referred to as clade (an organism from the same family) 18.104.22.168, has emerged and expanded its geographic range from Southeast Asia to Europe, East Asia, and South Asia.
Some variants of the clade are different enough from other H5N1 HPAI clades so that poultry vaccinations are becoming ineffective in some countries.
Speakers at the conference were told that nearly all H5N1 human infections were the result of the transmission of the virus from poultry to people.
The H5N1 virus is still considered a serious pandemic threat because of its continued presence in poultry in numerous countries, its tendency to quickly mutate and change, its ability to infect humans and its continuing high mortality rate.
Experts estimated the average fatality rate for people who contract the disease at about 60 per cent.
Since a new variant of H5N1 HPAI virus first emerged in East Asia in 1996, more than 17,000 poultry outbreaks and over 600 human infections have been reported from 62 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East.
Through the course of this sustained avian pandemic, millions of chickens, ducks and other poultry have been culled at considerable cost.
Given the public health, animal health and economic risks, it has become clear that in some countries, simply monitoring and controlling outbreaks in poultry is not enough.
According to the World Health Organisation, during the November 2010-October 2011 avian influenza season, 64 cases of humans infected with avian flu were reported with an average fatality rate of 52 per cent within developing countries.
The H5N1 virus continues to reside primarily in the poultry populations in up to 10 countries.
Participants from country governments along with international technical partners are sharing practices and lessons learned from preventing and controlling H5N1 HPAI infections in poultry and humans at the conference, which is expected to identify key directions for country efforts and continuing international co-operation and technical support for the coming period.
The Vietnamese Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Diep Kinh Tan, who opened the conference yesterday, expected the meeting would help formulate the next steps and practical, effective options for the participating governments to take forward.