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Bird Flu remains a constant threat and could worsen

The new wave of Avian Influenza outbreaks in Vietnam and Thailand clearly shows that the avian virus remains endemic in Asia and that affected countries need to do more to keep it under control, FAO and the World Animal Health Organisation (OIE) said today in a joint statement. Recent experience shows that it may be impossible to eradicate the virus soon.

“The disease will be present for several years in the countries that experienced outbreaks during 2004”, the two agencies said.

“Avian Influenza is an on-going emergency disease that spreads across borders. It has serious implications for the public and animal health sector in the affected countries,” FAO/OIE said.

“The international community has to realize that some poor countries in Asia living with the bird flu virus must receive more support to intensify precautionary measures and to contain the risks associated with the disease,” the two agencies said.

Control at source

The immediate challenge is to control Avian Influenza at source in the infected countries and stop the possible spread of the virus to other regions. “The battle against bird flu can only be won if more efforts and resources are directed to containment of the virus in animals in rural areas,” FAO/OIE said.

Water birds, particularly ducks, are considered as a reservoir of infection. The chances for spillover from ducks inhabiting the vast wetlands to poultry production units in villages or on commercial farms need to be significantly decreased. Strict biosecurity measures need to be applied throughout the poultry production chain, from farms and smallholdings to distribution channels, markets and retailers.

In order to contain the bird flu epidemic, infected countries such as Viet Nam and Indonesia need the support of the international community to strengthen the veterinary infrastructure and implement effective control strategies, based on better biosecurity, modernised industry practices and, where appropriate, vaccination, FAO/OIE said.

Since February 2004, donors have provided around $18 million for emergency activities and capacity building, but much more resources are urgently needed.

FAO/OIE warned that the tsunami disaster may worsen the bird flu situation in Asia due to the large-scale movement of poultry. FAO is sending an expert mission to Indonesia , Sri Lanka and The Maldives this week to assess the loss to the livestock sector and future rehabilitation needs.

A regional FAO/OIE meeting on Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza will be held in Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam (23-25 February 2005) to discuss the status of bird flu and future control efforts.

An international conference drawing together renowned scientists and risk managers will be organized in Paris (7-8 April 2005) at OIE Headquarters to discuss the global dimension of bird flu. The meeting is jointly organized by FAO and OIE in collaboration with WHO and is expected to propose new international guidelines for better controlling Avian Influenza in animals, based on the latest scientific information.