The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE)  has received reports about a number of new outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza in Nigeria, Taiwan and Vietnam over the last two weeks.

Avian influenza outbreaks continue in Asia

Taiwan has reported 4 new outbreaks of avian flu caused by the H5N2 variant of the virus between August 20 and September . These led to the death or destruction of more than 10,000 poultry on three farms in Yunlin County and one in Chaunghua. Only one of the outbreaks resulted in elevated mortality among the flock of geese; the other cases were identified through surveillance.

In Vietnam, there have been no recent outbreaks of H5N1 influenza reported in poultry but the H5N6 subtype has been identified in two outbreaks in backyard poultry flocks in the provinces of Lai Chau and Lao Cai, which are in the north of the country and border China.

Nigerian poultry farmers count the cost of continuing outbreaks

The veterinary authority in Nigeria has reported 7 new outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza in poultry to the OIE in the last two weeks. These cover the period of September 18-23 and in each case, the presence of the H5N1 subtype of the virus has been confirmed. In all, 14,509 birds were affected on farms in the southeastern states of Rivers and Abia; all birds died or have been destroyed. As in previous outbreaks in this area, it was the egg sector that bore the brunt of the losses. One of the affected farms also reportedly kept some broilers.

According to the local newspaper, Daily Independent, the avian influenza outbreaks have already cost the local poultry sector NGN10 billion (US$50 million) since the start of the year.

The situation was addressed by Onallo Akpa, Director General of Poultry Association of Nigeria (PAN) at a press conference in Abuja earlier this week. He said more than 1.7 million birds have been lost across 21 states and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. Many farmers have lost their homes and businesses, Akpa said, and he criticized the federal government for inadequate disease surveillance as well as the low level and delay in compensation payments to affected farmers.

According to Akpa, Nigeria’s poultry sub-sector accounts for more than 25 percent of national gross domestic product (GDP).

In response, Permanent Secretary at the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Sonny Echono, announced that in future, state and local government will also be involved in compensation payments.

On the recent spread of the disease to further states, Echono said, “These new outbreaks have been attributed to non-compliance to biosecurity in farms, limited awareness creation on the disease among the farmers, disregard to public policy on citing of poultry farms and other enforcement protocols which are expected to be implemented by the State Veterinary Services.”

Akpa responded, saying poultry farmers had complied with the biosecurity measures introduced by government.

Communicating influenza risks

It has proven challenging to assess and communicate measures to prevent the infection and spread to people of flu viruses of low pathogenicity in poultry, such as H7N9.  

According to ‘Addressing avian influenza A(H7N9): Guidelines for risk  communication messaging,’  recently published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO): “Risk communication should be employed to help raise justified and appropriate levels of public concern over the virus, obtain public support for government actions, reduce the magnitude and duration of product avoidance and subsequent market shocks and promote longer-term market infrastructure improvements and a more pro-health approach to poultry market chains.”