Bird Flu Alarm

2006-03-07-Bird Flu Spreads in Nigeria, Reaches Oil-Producing Delta Region

Understanding Avian Influenza

2006-03-07-Bird Flu Spreads in Nigeria, Reaches Oil-Producing Delta Region

Bird flu spread to three more Nigerian states, reaching the oil-producing Delta region where attacks by gunmen on pipelines and export terminals and kidnappings of workers in the past two months disrupted supply.

Avian influenza was confirmed by a local laboratory as the killer of poultry on commercial and backyard farms in the states of Anambra, Benue and Rivers, the government said in a statement on its Web site yesterday. Nigeria's southern Delta states, which include Rivers, form the country's main oil-producing region.

``The culling of infected birds and decontamination of the affected areas,'' including a district of Port Harcourt, is being assisted by local officials, said Nigeria's Information Minister Frank Nweke Jr.

The lethal H5N1 flu strain is raging through poultry farms in Nigeria, the most-populous nation on the western edge of a continent ravaged by poverty and HIV/AIDS. Health authorities are concerned avian flu is taking root in Africa, where it threatens to infect humans, as it has in Asia and the Middle East, and possibly mutate into a deadly pandemic form.

Confirmatory tests on Nigeria's latest cases will be conducted at a World Organization for Animal Health reference laboratory in Padua, Italy, Nweke said.

Avian flu is confirmed to have infected at least 33 people in the first two months of this year, killing 20 of them, according to the World Health Organization. That's twice as many cases and fatalities reported compared with the same two months of 2005. The H5N1 virus has killed at least 95 of the 175 people it infected since late 2003, according to the Geneva-based WHO.

Virus Spreads

The rising human death toll reflects the virus's spread to more parts of Asia, as well as Africa, Europe and the Middle East. More than 20 countries reported initial outbreaks in poultry the past six weeks, doubling the number of affected nations since the H5N1 virus was first identified in China's southern Guangdong province in 1996.

The Nigerian government this week began distributing compensation payments to farmers affected by the virus, which has spread in the past two months to almost a third of the country's 36 states. International aid organizations are counting on the payments to spur more culling and to help stem the trade of infected poultry.

Containing outbreaks in Nigeria's Delta region, on the Atlantic coast, may be complicated by kidnappings and attacks that forced Royal Dutch Shell Plc's Nigerian joint venture to halt crude oil output of 455,000 barrels a day, about a fifth of Nigeria's daily production.

Nigerian gunmen at the weekend vowed to cut the nation's oil production by another 1 million barrels a day this month. The country is the sixth-largest producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, pumping about 2.28 million barrels a day, and the No. 5 supplier of oil to the U.S.

Deaths on Farms

More than 1,600 fowl are reported to have died the past two weeks on farms in the states of Anambra, Benue, Plateau and Rivers, as well as Abuja in the Federal Capital Territory, Junaidu A. Maina, Nigeria's agriculture director, said in a March 5 statement to the World Organization for Animal Health.

``The affected farms are mostly commercial and backyard poultry layer production units inside towns, except the farm at Benue which had a mixture of 500 free range local birds and 100 ducks,'' Maina said. Benue borders Cameroon in eastern Nigeria.

There have been no reported human cases of avian influenza in Nigeria, the government said yesterday in its statement.

Understanding Avian Influenza