12th Feb, 2006: SWAZILAND - THE University of Swaziland (UNISWA’s) Kwaluseni campus yesterday hosted the first ever Avian Influenza (Asian Bird Flu) seminar in the country.
Stakeholders, from poultry farmers, poultry feed producers, veterinarians, consumers, and others, packed the UNISWA main conference hall and heard in detail about how the disease’s spread could be controlled or prevented.
Also in attendance was the Director of Veterinary Services, Dr Robert Thwala, who also made some remarks over how government intended to combat this scourge affecting birds, but recently had mutated and began affecting humans too. Already, the disease has made inroads into Nigeria where hundreds, if not thousands, of chickens are affected and are to be disposed of.
According to the World Organisation for Animal Health, the H5N1 Avian influenza has been detected in Nigeria, the first time the disease has been diagnosed in Africa.
Nigerian authorities stated that the outbreak occurred on a chicken farm in a village called Jaji, in the Kaduna State.
Although the seminar at the University was not prompted by the Nigerian outbreak, it was stated that possibilities are there that the fatal bird influenza could make inroads into the country as a result of a number of factors. The seminar themed ‘Asian Bird Flu, What If It Hits us’ interrogated means of how the flu began and how its virus had mutated and eventually began affecting human beings.
Current confirmed human Avian Influenza statistics stand at 165 cases and 88 deaths in Asian countries like China Vietnam and Thailand.
Speakers at the seminar likened the Bird Flu to the HIV and Aids disease, which in its early stages, had people denying that its existence, while others vouched for the extermination of those found to be carrying it.
Opening the seminar Uniswa Acting Vice Chancellor Professor Cisco Magagula, observed that the malady was no longer a regional or a continental one, but a global issue that needed global interventions.
“We are living in a world of viruses, and I do not know why. The HI virus continues to devastate us. Not long ago we were worrying about Anthrax, the Mad Cow disease and the SARS virus. Today we are worrying about the Asian Bird Flu. In 1918 we were devastated by the great Spanish flu pandemic that affected from 20 to 40 million people in the world. This was the largest and most destructive outbreak of any infectious diseases in the recorded history of the world. There might have been others, but this was unusual not only because of its high mortality rate, but also the group it targeted,î Professor Magagula noted.
He continued that experts say the Avian Bird Flu was caused by a virus in the intestines of wild birds throughout the world. It is similar to the HI virus. The virus is very contagious and can kill birds including chicken, ducks, and turkeys among others.
The above mentioned bird species form a daily diet for many people in the country, hence the influenza poses a very serious problem and may affect the dietary regimens of many people, which is why so much importance was being attached to its control and prevention.
Dr Jabula Dube, from the Hub Centre Veterinary Centre informed the attendants that the flu was species specific such that infection between turkeys and fowls was not that common.
Its natural hosts are domestic chicken, ducks, geese, pheasants, quails and guinea fowls. Infection in wild birds such as water- fowl and sea birds were sub-clinical while in domestic fowls infection is clinical. The disease was spread mostly by direct contact of domestic fowls with water birds leading to an outbreak.
“Other mammals are not usually associated with Avian Influenza, but pigs and turkeys have been linked. Also cats were linked in South East Asia in 2004.
Once the virus is established in domestic fowl, it can be highly contagious being found in faeces, nasal and eye discharges, thus easily spreading it to other objects or surfaces like cages, cartons and service crews. Airborne transmission was also a possibility, especially in close proximity,” Dr Dube said.
Dr Patrick Dlamini, a Veterinary Officer at the Ministry of Agriculture's Epidemiology Unit, noted that a major factor to control the spread of the influenza would be controlling it at the source.
“By source, I do not mean in Asia where it originated, but I mean the birds themselves. For example, the smallholder poultry sector and domestic duck population, which are major carrier host reservoir. Wild birds are implicated reservoirs of the disease and it cannot be eradicated while virus eradication from backyard poultry was difficult and a long- term task which can be very expensive. The disease’s control in domestic ducks and indigenous backyard chicken was critical,” Dr Dlamini said.
He noted that as some form of control, indigenous backyard chicken and domestic ducks should be separated at all costs from wild birds. No contact should take place while strategic culling of high carrier species is key to progressive control with or without vaccination.
“Reducing virus circulation in the commercial poultry production sector including medium to small sized commercial units is far more feasible, while successful control would involve an early detection-early reaction system,” he said.
Dr Dlamini observed that a strong surveillance mechanism ought to be put in place and strengthen early detection and a rapid response system for animal and human influenza, while building and strengthening laboratory capacity, where the birds will be tested.