The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) is recommending that farm biosecurity protocols be strengthened to curb the spread of avian influenza.

OIE points out that many national veterinary services have learnt to manage avian influenza outbreaks and contain them rapidly by following internationally-agreed standards, spurred on by the hundreds of human deaths that have already occurred around the world as a result of the virus’ transmission to humans. This approach needs to be followed by all OIE member countries.

Tighter farm controls vital

To prevent the disease's spread, the OIE says in a just-released statement: It is vital to implement OIE-recommended biosecurity measures in farms, in commerce and in live bird markets, as well as disease surveillance and early detection. 

While the role of wild birds as reservoirs and vectors of the virus has been highlighted in various avian influenza epidemics, further transmission - especially among poultry farms - could rise to prominence unless appropriate precautions are taken.

The recent increase in avian influenza outbreaks in the Americas, Africa and Europe, and its persistence in Asia, has made it necessary for OIE member countries’ veterinary services to implement all the planned prevention measures at farm level to address each specific local situation.

The OIE goes on to note that, since early 2014, outbreaks of avian influenza involving various strains have been reported in more than 35 countries around the world, and that tens of millions of birds have already died as a consequence.

The recent upsurge in outbreaks worldwide reaffirms the need for better implementation of the intergovernmental standards adopted by the OIE’s member countries.

Hundreds of human fatalities to date

Avian influenza is not new and neither is its devastating impact; in fact, in many instances, application of the OIE's rules has resulted in successful containment.

The OIE reminds that, since the global epizootic of avian influenza subtype N5N1 emerged in early 2004, several hundred human cases have been detected, more than half of which have proved fatal. Based on this experience, and the adoption of the OIE's dedicated intergovernmental standards, many national animal health services in affected countries have managed and quickly contained them. 

Despite, the apparent lull between then and 2014, there have been other recent episodes. The H7N9 strain that emerged in China in early 2013 possessed surprising new characteristics – it was the first low-pathogenic strain capable of infecting humans, causing more than 100 cases in only a few months.

However, once live poultry markets were pinpointed as sites for virus multiplication and amplification, in turn facilitating transmission to humans, the interim measures of closing such markets led to a rapid improvement in the situation.

IPC trade letter to OIE

Earlier in May 2015, the International Poultry Council (IPC) wrote to the OIE asking it to encourage its members to abide by OIE guidelines when imposing trade restrictions on poultry meat and breeding stock.

It said that the manner in which veterinary officials in some countries were interpreting the rules of the OIE Terrestrial Animal Code were causing widespread disruption to the trade in breeding stock and poultry meat.

“The reaction of many national veterinary authorities has been to impose national bans on all poultry imports without consideration of alternative risk-management strategies. National veterinary authorities may not always be using all the available measures agreed by the OIE for the continuation of safe trade, specifically in the kind of disease circumstances currently being experienced,” the statement said.

Read the OIE statement.

Read the IPC statement.