Bird Flu Alarm

2006-02-09-Bird flu experts arrive in Nigeria after outbreak

Understanding Avian Influenza

2006-02-09-Bird flu experts arrive in Nigeria after outbreak


KADUNA, Nigeria (Reuters) - International experts arrived in three Nigerian states hit by the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus on Thursday as authorities tried to persuade people to avoid contact with sick fowl.

Thousands of chickens have died in northern Nigeria over the past few weeks and the Paris-based World Organization for Animal Health confirmed on Wednesday that the deadly H5N1 strain had arrived in Africa for the first time.

"(U.N.) Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) inspectors are already in Kaduna, Kano and Jos, " said an official of the World Health Organization in the Nigerian capital Abuja.

"They want to trace people who have had contact with sick chickens and send out simple messages that there should be no human-bird contact," she added.

The outbreak could have devastating consequences in Nigeria, where millions keep chickens in their backyards.

Nigerian authorities say they have so far received no reports of human infection with H5N1, which has killed at least 88 people in seven countries since it re-emerged in late 2003.

But it would be difficult for authorities to know that for sure because mortality rates in Nigeria are among the highest in the world and the dead are often buried without any medical checks.

Scientists fear that H5N1 could mutate into a form that passes easily from person to person, sparking a human influenza pandemic in which millions could die.

So far, victims have contracted the disease through close contact with infected birds.

The chicken that tested positive for H5N1 was taken from a commercial battery farm in the north of Kaduna state.

In the Kaduna state capital on Thursday, market traders said there were fewer commercial chickens available, but that domestically-reared birds were fetching a premium.

"In these broiler chicken farms someone can keep 20,000-30,000 chickens so it's not safe, but in the village they keep only four or five so it's safer," said Adamu Usman.

The Nigerian government said it would cull all chickens suspected to be infected with bird flu, compensate farmers and quarantine all suspect farms.

Bird flu has been moving westwards from east Asia and people have died during recent outbreaks in Turkey and Iraq. It was not immediately clear how it reached west Africa, but experts said the priority was to contain it before it could spread any further.

Understanding Avian Influenza