Laboratory results from Nigeria and an FAO reference laboratory in Italy show that the newly discovered virus strain (H5N1, clade 2, EMA3) is genetically different from the strains that circulated in Nigeria during earlier outbreaks in 2006 and 2007. The new strain has never been reported before in Africa; it is more similar to strains previously identified in Europe (Italy), Asia (Afghanistan) and the Middle East (Iran) in 2007.
“The detection of a new avian influenza virus strain in Africa raises serious concerns as it remains unknown how this strain has been introduced to the continent,” warned Scott Newman, International Wildlife Coordinator of FAO’s Animal Health Service.
“It seems to be unlikely that wild birds have carried the strain to Africa, since the last migration of wild birds from Europe and Central Asia to Africa occurred in September 2007 and this year’s southerly migration into Africa has not really started yet,” Newman said. “It could well be that there are other channels for virus introduction: international trade, for example, or illegal and unreported movement of poultry. This increases the risk of avian influenza spread to other countries in Western Africa.”
“Uncertainty about virus spread and transmission is a major challenge for control campaigns. Increased surveillance is key to monitor the situation and keep track of virus spread,” said FAO Chief Veterinary Officer Joseph Domenech. “FAO greatly appreciates Nigeria’s swift reporting and sharing of the relevant information about this new virus strain.”
Since the avian influenza epidemic caused by the H5N1 strain started five years ago in Asia, the disease has affected over 60 countries; the vast majority of countries have succeeded to eliminate the virus from poultry. In Nigeria, the virus was first confirmed in February 2006 and infected poultry in 25 states before being contained.
FAO supports affected countries and countries at risk to detect bird flu outbreaks at a very early stage. FAO has also contributed to an efficient global response to HPAI.
In Nigeria, FAO has a team of animal health experts and veterinary epidemiologists working with the government and its veterinary services. FAO has assisted the government with disease surveillance and outbreak investigations, as well as establishing a stockpile of veterinary drugs both at central and state levels. FAO and the Federal Government of Nigeria have identified priority areas where animal health and transboundary animal disease prevention measures need to be improved.
“Many countries have succeeded in getting the virus under control; but as long as avian influenza remains endemic in some countries, the international community needs to be on alert. Both, at risk and affected countries have to keep a high level of surveillance,” Domenech said.