FAO today expressed confidence in the capacity of authorities in the United Kingdom to adequately respond to the recent outbreak of H5N1 avian influenza at a commercial turkey farm there. British authorities are still trying to determine the source of the outbreak at a farm in Suffolk, England, where 2 500 birds died of the virus. Around 160 000 birds have been culled to prevent the spread of the disease.
FAO is closely monitoring the situation in the UK and Hungary, where the virus was confirmed in a flock of geese in January, and is in contact with national veterinary authorities and the European Commission's Health and Consumer Protection Directorate.
The U.N. agency warned, however, that greater support was needed to help countries still struggling to control the virus, such as Indonesia, Egypt and Nigeria.
"Circulation of the H5N1 virus can be reduced in poultry if decisive action is taken at the highest political level, applying appropriate surveillance and virus detection, as well as control tools, including vaccination, and providing necessary material and financial support," said FAO Chief Veterinary Officer Joseph Domenech.
Team heads to Nigeria
FAO has sent a team from its Crisis Management Centre to work with the World Health Organization (WHO) in Nigeria following confirmation of the first human bird flu fatality in that country last week.
The team will meet with health, agriculture and other officials to evaluate the situation and ensure that appropriate food safety messages are disseminated to educate the public and to avoid panic. The objective is to provide realistic recommendations for those at highest risk of exposure to potentially infected birds, including those involved in the slaughter and processing of poultry.
The H5N1 virus was first detected in poultry in Nigeria in February 2006. Since then, more than 700 000 poultry have died of bird flu or been culled in Nigeria. Despite control measures, 19 of the country's 36 states, as well as the Federal Capital Territory, have been affected.
At their annual coordination meeting on global animal health issues last week in Rome, senior officials of FAO, the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and WHO expressed serious concerns that the substantial progress made in many parts of the world against avian influenza is being jeopardized by insufficiently determined and inadequately funded action in a few countries where the virus continues to circulate.
"Globally, the situation is better than it was three years ago, but the recent revival of outbreaks in some countries shows that there is no cause for complacency," said Domenech. "The virus is still circulating in parts of the world and national veterinary services have to remain on constant alert because of the risk of reintroduction of the virus."