The U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) launched a Southeast Asian “bird flu network” Friday to improve surveillance and detection of the killer virus, which is spreading steadily across the region.
The U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) launched a Southeast Asian “bird flu network” Friday to improve surveillance and detection of the killer virus, which is spreading steadily across the region.The network will offer training to veterinary officials in impoverished countries in the region to allow them to recognize the tell-tale signs of bird flu more quickly.It will also try to make national disease laboratories coordinate more closely to ensure tissue samples from dead animals are tested more rigorously and faster.”National borders cannot stop the disease from spreading,” said Joseph Domenech, head of animal health at the Rome-based FAO.”Only regional cooperation is likely to achieve success. Our aim is to improve the quality of diagnosis and epidemiology,” he said on the last day of a three-day regional meeting on the disease.The virulent H5N1 bird flu strain, which first broke out in Hong Kong in 1997, killed millions of chickens and 24 people when it swept across much of Asia earlier this year.Mass culling brought an end to that outbreak, but after a lull of a few months, bird flu has broken out again in China, Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand, where 21 of its 76 provinces have confirmed renewed outbreaks.Even though the latest infections have been found only in birds, health experts are still worried the virus might mutate and lead to human-to-human transmission, creating the potential to unleash a global pandemic of killer flu.As well as urging more cooperation between countries, the FAO is also warming to the idea of using vaccines more widely in domestic poultry as a way of curbing the virus, which experts say now appears to be endemic in wild bird populations.Hans Wagner of the FAO in Bangkok said the United Nations organization would publish a revised set of guidelines, including its strategic rethink on vaccination, at the end of August.Vaccines are banned in Vietnam and Thailand, a major exporter of chicken to the European Union. Thailand is loathe to relax this ruling since EU regulations forbid the import of chickens from countries that use vaccination.However Indonesia, which does not export in quantity to the European Union, has always looked much more favorably on vaccination. Agriculture authorities there are issuing more than 300 million doses of vaccine in response to its latest cases. (Source: Reuters, July 2004)