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Published:July 6th, 2007 08:24 EST
Success Against Bird Flu Slowed by Ongoing Animal Infections

Success Against Bird Flu Slowed by Ongoing Animal Infections

By SOP newswire

Washington – Despite the eradication of avian flu viruses in poultry in many countries, and reductions in the prevalence of infection in others, the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain continues to threaten bird and human populations around the world.

This finding was among the conclusions reached in Rome June 27-29, at the International Technical Meeting on Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza and Human H5N1 Infection. The 115 participants included representatives of 15 countries, many international and regional organizations, and 24 independent experts.

The meeting comes as the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that 317 people have been infected with avian influenza since 2003 and 191 have died.

A recurring theme throughout the meeting was that there is no room for complacency about bird flu, said Ambassador John Lange, the U.S. State Department’s special representative on avian and pandemic influenza, during a July 2 USINFO interview.

“The H5N1 virus is highly persistent," he said, “it is spreading in poultry populations, and the threat that it will mutate to become a human pandemic continues."

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and WHO organized the meeting in collaboration with UNICEF and the office of the U.N. System Influenza Coordinator.

The U.S. delegation included representatives from the State Department, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Participants were veterinary and human health officials, scientific experts and technical specialists, and representatives of international and regional technical agencies, the private sector, donors and nongovernmental organizations.

OUTBREAK AND RESPONSE

More than 250 million chickens have died of H5N1 or have been destroyed to stop the virus’s spread. Farmers and poultry producers have lost billions of dollars as a result.

“In the 15 or so countries in Asia, Eastern Europe and the Middle East where the H5N1 virus was introduced during the past six months, it was rapidly detected and eliminated or controlled," FAO’s chief veterinary officer, Joseph Domenech, said during a June 27 press briefing at the meeting in Rome.

“Most affected countries have been very open about new outbreaks," he added. “This shows that countries are taking the H5N1 threat seriously. They are better prepared today and have improved their response systems."

Recent poultry outbreaks in Bangladesh, Ghana, Togo, the Czech Republic and Germany are a clear reminder that the virus can spread to new or previously infected countries, Domenech said. A potential human pandemic cannot be ruled out as long as the virus continues to exist in poultry.

Two new WHO-confirmed human H5N1 cases in Vietnam, for example – the first human cases reported there since 2005 – coincided with a large number of new poultry outbreaks of H5N1 in Vietnam in May and June. In Europe, OIE confirmed H5N1 in three swans found dead in France July 5, the second outbreak in France in 17 months.

For bird outbreaks, the three main countries of concern are Indonesia, Egypt and Nigeria, because of large bird populations, bird and people interactions, and – in Nigeria – the effect avian flu will have on people’s livelihoods. Indonesia also has the greatest number of human H5N1 cases since 2003 – 101, with 80 deaths.

PANDEMIC READY

The persistence of H5N1 in countries despite efforts to tackle it, said David Nabarro, U.N. system coordinator for avian and pandemic influenza, is a concern for affected communities, countries suffering as a result, and the world as a whole.

Part of the answer, he said, is to make all nations “pandemic ready," meaning they have health care systems that can accommodate patients during a pandemic and publics that understand the implications of a pandemic.

“At least 178 countries have drafted or finalized their national pandemic preparedness plans," Lange said, and the revised International Health Regulations – which provide a standardized way for the international community to detect, report and respond to public health emergencies of international importance – have come into force. (See related article.)

“One element of such preparedness is the Community Mitigation Guidance prepared by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention," Lange said. (See related article.)

The best protection against pandemic flu – a vaccine well-matched to the virus – will not be available for five months to six months. Community strategies that do not involve vaccines or medications (nonpharmaceutical interventions) may be the best way to delay or help stop a pandemic’s spread.

“We use it domestically and offer it to other countries to consider for their own preparedness plans," Lange said.

Meeting participants also discussed the New Delhi Ministerial Conference on Avian and Pandemic Influenza, Lange said, scheduled for December 4-6 in India. The government of India will host the meeting and the International Partnership on Avian and Pandemic Influenza will sponsor it. (See related article.)

More information about the Community Mitigation Guidance is available at the pandemicflu.gov Web site.

Additional information about the International Health Regulations is available on the WHO Web site.

For more information on U.S. and international efforts to combat avian influenza, see Bird Flu (Avian Influenza).

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

Source:DoS