Bird Flu May Continue in Southeast and East Asia: UN

United Nations officials in Bangkok Thursday confirmed that the recent outbreak of avian influenza along the Thailand-Laos Mekong River border area was due to a strain of virus not previously present in either country, and that it probably came from southern China.

Government need to be more attentive to cross border trade in poultry

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) also said that the outbreak in Phichit province was a re-emergence of the H5N1 virus previously active in Thailand, and that governments needed to be more attentive to cross-border trade in poultry.

FAO regional director He Changchui said that Asia's poorer governments are less equipped to deal with any outbreak and should be assisted with long-term programmes.

Laboratory confirmation points to both old and new isolates of the bird flu virus as sources of the recent HPAI outbreak in Phichit, where the 'old' virus re-emerged and in Nakhon Pathom Province as well as in Laos, where the 'new' virus appeared, according to the FAO.

Calling for improved and sustained HPAI control efforts in Asia, FAO warned in an official news release that "vigorous implementation of recommended control measures is needed to prevent a further spread of the disease and sustain past successes in the region."

"Continuing outbreaks in China, recurrence in Cambodia, Laos and Thailand, and the steady march of the disease in Indonesia underline the need for heightened vigilance in other Asian countries to prevent and detect any resurgence or introduction of the deadly bird flu virus. Timely reporting and sharing information continue to be crucial," He Changchui, FAO's Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific warned.

"Concerned about the recurrence of bird flu in Asia, close monitoring of diagnostic results by FAO has revealed that bird flu is endemic in some areas while new strains have emerged in other places," an FAO release said.

"Last month's HPAI outbreak in Thailand's Phichit province was caused by the same virus strain circulating in the area since 2003/4. The H5N1 virus thus remained alive in central Thailand in a reservoir of birds and poultry, most probably a mix of backyard chicken, ducks and fighting cocks," according to Laurence Gleeson, regional manager of FAO's bird flu centre in Bangkok on Thursday.

This indicates that the H5N1 virus is endemic in the area. While the number and size of outbreaks has been reduced, past control efforts were only partly successful.

On the other hand, the outbreaks in Nakhon Phanom and Vientiane, the capital of Laos, were caused by a H5N1 virus strain previously not detected in Thailand and Laos. Instead, the virus is similar to recent isolates from southern China, suggesting that the virus spread from China to Thailand and Laos.

The UN organisation said it recognizes that poultry trade across borders is continuing in Southeast and East Asia despite well-known risks to the governments and people in the region.

Countries are once more called upon to strengthen in-country as well as cross-border HPAI control measures, FAO added. In addition, regional HPAI networks need to be made stronger and sustainable with national and international support.

Recent sharing of information, epidemiological analysis and joint field missions to assess and control outbreaks in poultry have resulted in a better understanding of the month-old resurgence of bird flu in Asian countries such as Cambodia, Laos and Thailand.

The endemic presence of bird flu over the last three years coupled with the proven inroads of new virus isolates into already affected countries makes a redoubling of efforts at both national and regional level essential, the FAO noted.

Governments in the region and FAO are working to tackle the bird flu problem at its source, but have so far only received a fraction of the US$308.5 million needed. So far, Japan, USAID and the Asian Development Bank are the main donors in the region.

Source: BKP

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