26 February 2017 | Online since 2003

8 February 2017

Authority concerned about increase in AI cases


Dr Neo Mapitse, deputy head of department with the OIE

Leaders of the OIE - the international body responsible for animal health - said they were concerned about a spike in avian influenza cases, after the number of outbreaks in Europe surged by nearly 75 per cent between December and January.

In the United Kingdom, cases of highly pathogenic H5N8 have been found on three turkey farms in Lincolnshire, on a series of game units in Lancashire, in farmed pheasants in Preston, Lancashire and in back yard flocks in Wales and North Yorkshire. The virus has also been found in wild birds across the country. Across the Channel H5N8 has now been reported in 17 other European countries. Cases have also been recorded in Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, the Republic of Korea, Nigeria and Tunisia.

Dr Neo Mapitse, deputy head of department with the OIE (the World Organisation for Animal Health) told the Ranger that from October 19 until January 9 there had been 761 outbreaks of H5N8 in Europe and, he said, new cases were still being reported to the OIE. The numbers had jumped from 437 in December. "What we've seen recently from December data to January, we are seeing a spike in the increase in the number of outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza from a global perspective," he said.

Nearly 1.6 million poultry had already been culled, he said, and the number culled could increase to 3.7 million simply as a result of the current outbreaks.

Dr Mapitse said, "We are seeing an increase in the number of cases that are being reported to the OIE so, therefore, there is an obligation, we have to inform our members - the countries that are reporting to us - and alert them of this increase in the number of outbreaks we are seeing, so that they can take appropriate measures and be prepared, and take measures that are appropriate for what they are seeing on the ground."

However, the doctor, who studied as a vet in Glasgow before completing a masters degree in London, said he saw no prospect at the moment of being able to eradicate avian influenza. He said use had to be made of bio-security measures to protect domestic poultry from bird flu carried by migrating wild birds.

"Avian influenza is a disease that, because of its linkage with the wild population, we basically have to take measures to prevent its introduction from the wild population into the domestic population," he said. Preventing the disease in wild birds was not possible; it was not practical, he said. "What is practical for countries to do is to implement bio-security measures at national level on the domestic poultry. I cannot say it is a disease that in the foreseeable future we can eradicate."

Dr Mapitse was speaking at a briefing at the OIE's headquarters in Paris, where he was joined by the organisation's director general, Monique Eloit. They outlined measures that poultry keepers should take to protect their birds from the virus. These included keeping poultry away from areas frequented by wild fowl, avoiding attracting wild fowl by leaving things like poultry feed outside, maintaining strict control over access to flocks, ensuring good sanitation of property, poultry houses and equipment, avoiding the introduction of birds of unknown disease status into a flock, reporting any bird illnesses and deaths to veterinary services, ensuring appropriate disposal of manure, litter and dead poultry and vaccinating animals where appropriate.

The OIE said it also encouraged governments to provide compensation for farmers who lost their birds as a result of mandatory culling. It said that this was an incentive for early detection and transparent reporting of animal disease, including avian influenza.

In the recent H5N8 outbreaks the countries in Europe to have reported cases include Austria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Of the 761 cases recorded by January, said the OIE, 49 per cent of them were in wild birds and 51 per cent in poultry. However, the percentage of cases in domestic poultry was now increasing as a result of the recent spike. Dr Mapitse said that in the early stages of the outbreaks most finds were in wild birds; more recently the majority of the reports were of outbreaks in domestic poultry.

He said that the OIE was able to make recommendations about what needed to be done to prevent the spread of AI, but it was for individual countries to take the necessary action to restrict the virus. "We are more of an inter-government organisation that is responsible for setting standards - standards for disease surveillance, for avian influenza surveillance," He said such recommendations also included guidance on bio-security measures. "We make recommendations and do what we can within our mandate. At the same time we work with our partners - other international organisations - to help countries implement control measures at national level or international level.

"And we also, as OIE, for example, do combined missions with our partner international organisations to visit countries where they need assistance." He said these missions were to discover what was happening on the ground and offer advice on suitable measures. There were also partner organisations that could work with countries to implement surveillance measures or bio-security measures, he said.

DR Mapitse said that the poultry industry, itself, could take action to protect its birds from avian influenza. "First of all when countries receive alert messages on outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza in wild birds, it should not affect trade in poultry because the disease has now been seen in wild birds. It is for a country to take measures to prevent the introduction of highly pathogenic avian influenza from wild birds to domestic poultry. These bio-security measures are variable and it's up to the country to take the appropriate measures, which are practical to them, and will be most effective in preventing introduction of highly pathogenic avian influenza from wild birds into domestic poultry. These bio-security measures we do have standards for to describe what it means for bio-security measures, what can be implemented and, because the standards are there, it is up to the countries who are members of the OIE to take these standards and adopt them at national level and implement them at national level," he said.

Dr Mapitse said that the pattern of increasing numbers of avian influenza outbreaks in the winter months was one that the OIE would expect to see. However, the spike in numbers from December to January was particularly large and it was difficult to know whether or not the outbreaks had peaked. Cases were still being reported to the OIE.

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