Tuesday

Zambia govt told to sensitise people on Bird Flu

Every country is at risk of the bird flu, World Health Organisation (WHO) country representative Dr. Stella Anyangwe said yesterday.

Bird Flu (Avian influenza or H5 N1) is an infectious disease affecting birds and is caused by influenza A viruses. Chickens and turkeys are particularly susceptible to epidemics and direct or indirect contact with domestic flocks with wild waterfowl has been cited as a cause.

In an interview, Dr. Anyangwe called for massive sensitisation of people, especially poultry farmers and handlers about dangers of the disease.

She said since the country might not have adequate resources to embark on massive vaccinations of poultry, there was need for sensitisation.

"Information sharing does not cost much. We need to inform and educate our people in all areas of the country so that they may understand how to protect themselves and prevent infection," Dr. Anyangwe said.

She observed that Zambia needed to be wary of the fact that migrant birds could get into contact with local birds such as ducks, geese and chickens consequently posing a danger to human beings.

Dr. Anyangwe, who said preparedness was key to averting bird flu, added that global data on effects of the H5N1 virus and its potential to develop into a pandemic was extremely worrying, especially for resource-poor countries.

Dr. Anyangwe said grave danger would arise if the H5N1 strain mutated and changed to another form that would make it possible to be transmitted from human to human through various media such as air.

"Such a change could mark the start of an influenza pandemic in humans," she said.

Dr Anyangwe explained that at present the virus did not easily cross from birds to humans.

"Most of the human cases have been linked to close contact with the feaces of live or dead infected poultry. The disease caused by H5N1infection in humans follows an unusually aggressive course, with rapid deterioration and high fatality. Primary viral pneumonia and multiple organ failure are common," she said.

Dr. Anyangwe said it was also important to ensure food safety, especially when dealing with poultry.

Over 400 animal and human health experts, senior policy-makers, economists and industry representatives are gathered in Geneva this week to work out a strategy to control the virus in domestic animals and prepare for a potential human influenza pandemic.

The H5N1 virus is affecting millions of poultry and has claimed over 60 deaths of humans in Asia.

There is a threat of spread to other regions such as Africa.

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