Why Peru is so vulnerable to avian influenza

High populations of ducks and aquatic birds makes avian influenza hard to control in Peru.

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Peru could quite possibly be the country in South America that is the most vulnerable to highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), said Maria Eliana Icochea D’Arrigo, head of the avian pathology laboratory at the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos.

Eliana Icochea, speaking at the International Avian Influenza Summit on October 16 in Fayetteville, Arkansas, described two reasons she felt Peru was so vulnerable.

With a long coastline, there are plenty of points of entry for the virus to spread via migrating waterfowl, and the country has lost roughly 1,000 wild birds to HPAI, according to the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH), with about half of those being Peruvian pelicans.

“The most affected species has been the Peruvian pelican, which was affected, and we have had a decrease of 95% of its Peruvian population, and this has been devastating for biodiversity,” she said.

And with HPAI so prevalent in Peru’s wild bird population, it makes HPAI’s risk for poultry farmers “impossible to avoid, even with having the most extreme biosecurity measures.”

But also adding to concerns in Peru is the fact that there is a lot of commercial duck production there.

“We’re a country who has a great duck population. We raise ducks for Peruvian dishes and for Chinese cuisine,” she said.

“Ducks are highly susceptible to this virus. We can see what’s going on in France, and they’ve had to vaccinate the duck population, because it was impossible to stop this multiplication of virus in ducks. This is our situation in Peru, too.”

According to the WOAH, 15 premises with poultry have been affected by HPAI, leading to the loss of more than 253,000 birds. These have not only included ducks, but also laying hens, breeding hens, turkeys, backyard poultry and fighting chickens.

Another concern Eliana Icochea mentioned was, because of the high level of mortalities in both commercial and non-commercial birds, disposing of carcasses in a timely fashion has been challenging. However, she did say the situation isn’t as bad as it could be because of a shared commitment and cooperation in minimizing the impact of HPAI.

“There has been great unity between people and population, academia and entrepreneurs. They have all worked (closely) with the government because this is a common and a shared problem for our country,” she said.

View our continuing coverage of the global avian influenza situation

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