Free range poultry a threat of avian flu

Free range poultry is a threat to the transmission of avian influenza in the Mekong delta provinces where farmers are harvesting their winter-spring crop.

Disinfecting conducted in Mekong delta provinces while waiting for vaccine (Photo: SGGP)

Millions of waterfowl are allowed to roam freely in the fields because they can feed on rice grains spilled after the harvest and other food particles on the ground in Dong Thap and An Giang provinces. Experts have identified them as a high risk since wild waterfowl can be asymptomatic carriers of low pathogenic avian influenza and their long migration can spread the disease.

Only surveillance of free-range ducks by the authorities will help contain bird flu.  However, residents have a low awareness of the disease which is a hindrance for health authorities, since they usually avoided meeting vets who are responsible for checking vaccination of poultry or only present expired vaccination receipts when asked to show rearing registration documents.

Thousand-strong free-ranging duck flocks are permitted to roam freely, but when vets need to meet the owners, they only meet hired workers.

They are unable to estimate the losses if an outbreak of bird flu really re-occurs in the region as the chickens are given continuous access to an outdoor range during the daytime which helps the spread of the fatal virus.

The Mekong delta province of Hau Giang has seen scattered outbreaks of avian flu but the local administrators said that it is still under control. Truong Ngoc Trung, the chief of the province’s Department of Animal Health admitted that the pandemic could occur at any time.

Vo Be Hien, head of Dong Thap’s Department of Animal Health, said he fretted about free range unvaccinated duck from other provinces to be moved to his region, spreading the disease to the local flocks.

Massive vaccinations were not carried out any more because the vaccine has not been distributed since last December as provinces have spent their limited budget for vaccine.  Dong Thap, for instance, has around four million ducks excluding over three million freely roaming ducks from other districts but the province has shot only more than two million.

It is hard to control free-range water fowl in the Mekong delta so far and provincial leaders merely rely on vaccination to control the spread of the flu virus.

By Cao Phong - Translated by Ngoc Anh

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