Stakeholders Meet over Avian Flu

NAMIBIA - Officials from the Ministry of Health and Social Services, marine experts, and representatives of the Police and the Namibian Defence Force are in Walvis Bay for a two-day workshop on avian influenza.
calendar icon 14 August 2008
clock icon 5 minute read

The workshop is aimed at formulating a Rapid Response Team at local level to complement the country’s efforts as part of SADC countries’ efforts to control the spread of the disease, according to New Era. The workshop follows an earlier visit by representatives of the FAO to the coastal towns to assess the implementation of avian influenza response.

At SADC level, the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) in South Africa organised similar workshops where training and sensitisation on bird flu was provided. The training was aimed at passing on knowledge to the various countries’ representatives, who would in turn pass over the knowledge to relevant stakeholders in their own countries.

Avian influenza is an infection caused by bird flu viruses. These viruses occur naturally among birds. Wild birds worldwide are reported to carry the viruses in their intestines, but usually do not get sick from them. However, avian influenza is very contagious among birds and can infect domesticated birds, including chickens, ducks, and turkeys, often killing them.

Infected birds shed influenza virus in their saliva, nasal secretions and faeces. Susceptible birds become infected when they have contact with contaminated secretions or excretions or with surfaces that are contaminated with secretions or excretions from infected birds. Domesticated birds may become infected with avian influenza virus through direct contact with infected waterfowl or other infected poultry, or through contact with surfaces (such as dirt or cages) or materials (such as water or feed) that have been contaminated with the virus.

Migratory birds making their way into other countries beyond their origins have been reported as one of the major factors fuelling the spread of bird flu to those countries. Due to the large presence of migratory birds often found along the Namibian shores and coastline, the Ministry of Health deemed it necessary to convene the workshop as a direct response to earlier regional efforts to prevent a catastrophe in the event of another outbreak of the disease.

Infection with avian influenza viruses in domestic poultry causes two main forms of disease that are distinguished by low and high extremes of virulence. The low pathogenic form may go undetected and usually causes only mild symptoms (such as ruffled feathers and a drop in egg production).

However, the highly pathogenic form, H5N1 virus, spreads more rapidly through flocks of poultry. This form may cause diseases that affect multiple internal organs and has a mortality rate that can reach 90-100 percent often within 48 hours.

The State veterinarian at Walvis Bay, Dr Elizabeth Homateni-Kamberuka, who is facilitating the workshop, said the workshop became vital in order to form a Rapid Response Team that would be deployed in the event of an outbreak of bird flu.

"This workshop is important for the region to be prepared and respond as rapidly as possible in the case of an outbreak, as these people will be deployed in the field to deal with a confirmed or suspected outbreak of avian influenza in humans or birds," she said.

Although the H5N1 virus does not usually infect people, infections with these viruses have been reported in humans. Most of these cases have resulted from people having direct or close contact with H5N1-infected poultry or H5N1-contaminated surfaces.

Of the human cases associated with H5N1 outbreaks in poultry and wild birds, more than half of the people reported to be infected with the virus have died. Most cases have occurred in previously healthy children and young adults and have resulted from direct or close contact with H5N1-infected poultry or H5N1-contaminated surfaces. In general, H5N1 remains a very rare disease in people. The H5N1 virus does not infect humans easily and if a person is infected, it is very difficult for the virus to spread to another person.

While there has been some human-to-human spread of H5N1, it has been limited, inefficient and unsustained. Nonetheless, because all influenza viruses have the ability to change, scientists are concerned that H5N1 virus one day could be able to infect humans and spread easily from one person to another.

Further Reading

- You can visit the Avian Flu page by clicking here.
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