The response to the deadly H5N1 virus in poultry has significantly
improved over the past three years, but the virus remains entrenched
in several countries and will continue to spread, FAO’s Chief
Veterinary Officer Joseph Domenech said yesterday.
Reports of human cases occur only very sporadically, apart from
Egypt and Indonesia, following the progressive control of H5N1 in
poultry. “This achievement is the most important demonstration
of the effects of worldwide efforts to contain the H5N1 virus,” Domenech
“In the 15 or so countries in Asia, Eastern Europe and the
Middle East, where the H5N1 virus was introduced during the past
six months, it was rapidly detected and eliminated or controlled.
Most affected countries have been very open about new outbreaks.
This shows that countries are taking the H5N1 threat seriously. They
are better prepared today and have improved their response systems,” Domenech
said at a press conference in Rome on the occasion of the Technical
Meeting on Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza and Human H5N1 Infection.
No reason for complacency
But Domenech also stressed that there should be absolutely no reason
“Recent H5N1 outbreaks in Bangladesh, Ghana, Togo, the Czech
Republic and Germany are a clear reminder that the virus still succeeds
in spreading to new or previously already infected countries,” Domenech
A potential human influenza pandemic can not be ruled out as long
as the virus continues to exist in poultry.
There are still some serious concerns with the global disease situation
particularly with regard to Egypt, Indonesia or Nigeria.
“Even if bird flu has disappeared from our TV screens, it
doesn’t mean that the risk is over. Avian influenza is not
a one time event -- the international community will have to live
with the disease for several years to come,” he added.
A long-term presence of the virus will require a long-term financial
and political commitment from governments and the international community
to finally contain and eradicate the virus.
“What makes the battle against avian influenza so difficult
are the many high risk poultry production and marketing practices
that still continue in many countries,” Domenech said.
Indonesia, for example, has more than 13 000 live poultry markets
where birds from different origins are mixed. Unless those practices
are modified or changed, the risk of recurrent infection remains
“The socially and economically equitable adjustment of poultry
production and marketing systems for safer product supply is essential
to reduce infection risks. Without forgetting that efficient veterinary
services and improved private public partnership for better surveillance
and control activities remain indispensable,“ Domenech said.
He called for intensified monitoring of virus circulation particularly
in countries that are using poultry vaccines.
“The H5N1 virus is not stable and keeps constantly changing.
On one occasion in China last year a new virus strain appeared with
different immunologic characteristics which made it necessary to
modify the vaccines used in the region concerned. This emergence
of a new strain may have happened again more recently in Indonesia,” he
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