Bird Flu Alarm

2006-02-10-Tanzania announces bird flu preparedness

Understanding Avian Influenza

2006-02-10-Tanzania announces bird flu preparedness

Tanzania, with the support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the German Technical Development Agency GTZ, has been preparing for the potential arrival of the avian influenza virus since last year.

However, the government has stepped up surveillance of migratory birds following the first confirmed case of avian influenza, subtype H5N1, in Nigerian poultry on Wednesday.

A statement issued by the US embassy in Dar es Salaam yesterday said that, although there were no documented cases of avian influenza in Tanzania - either in poultry or human beings - there is a chance that the virus could be introduced in the country through poultry products or migratory aquatic and shore birds.

Once poultry is infected, the virus spreads rapidly from flock to flock. Virulent strains of avian influenza could decimate entire flocks that result in economic devastation.

Culling infected birds, considered the best method of controlling the disease, adds to the economic loss, the statement notes.

The statement warns that people who work with infected poultry are at risk of being infected with deadly consequences.

It said: "of the 165 people infected offshore with the virus so far, 88 have died"

Three to five million birds have already been sighted in Tanzania during their annual migration southwards from Asia and central Europe, where they may have been in contact with birds carrying the virus.

Because migration is an ongoing, cyclical process, the birds flying back up north in the spring may infect birds in Europe and birds coming back in the fall may infect birds in Africa.

Many rural villages in Tanzania are located along bird migration routes.

These villages raise free-ranging poultry that are easily exposed to droppings from migrating wild aquatic and shore birds.

Tanzania has established a comprehensive surveillance programme that will allow health and veterinary officials to launch effective and appropriate disease prevention and control measures quickly in case of an outbreak.

Wild bird surveillance is currently being conducted by the Tanzania Bird Atlas Project, with oversight from the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute (a public-funded institution under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism that co-ordinates and carries out wild life research in Tanzania) and the Ministry of Livestock Development.

The Animal Disease Research Institute, in conjunction with the Ministry of Livestock Development plans to conduct poultry surveillance to rule out any possibility of the virus.

The University of Minnesota in the US has received funding to support a pilot human surveillance activity and is working with the National Medical Research Institute to establish the monitoring exercise.

USAID has been actively helping the Government of Tanzania prepare for avian influenza.

Along with GTZ, USAID is supporting wild bird, poultry and human surveillance.

"USAID has set aside US$75,000 for wild bird surveillance and GTZ is providing USAID with US$70,000 for specimen testing," the statement said.

Understanding Avian Influenza