Africa may face serious bird flu risk
19 October 2005 - After the confirmed outbreaks of avian influ-
enza in Romania and Turkey, the risk of bird flu spreading to
the Middle East and African countries has markedly increased.
19 October 2005, Rome - After the confirmed outbreaks of avian
influenza in Romania and Turkey, the risk of bird flu spreading
to the Middle East and African countries has markedly increased,
FAO warned today.
"The detection of bird flu in Romania and Turkey, following out-
breaks in Russia, Kazakhstan and Mongolia, confirms FAO's recent
warning that the virus is spreading along the pathways of migra-
tory birds outside southeast Asia," said Joseph Domenech, FAO's
Chief Veterinary Officer. "Wild birds seem to be one of the main
avian influenza carriers, but more research is urgently needed
to fully understand their role in spreading the virus."
Both Romania and Turkey have swiftly responded to the recent
outbreaks, FAO said. "These countries should be able to contain
the virus soon."
"One of our major concerns is now the potential spread of avian
influenza through migratory birds to northern and eastern Af-
rica," Domenech warned. "There is serious risk that this sce-
nario may become a reality."
"The Middle East and northern African countries should be able
to build up a line of defence against avian influenza. FAO is
more concerned about the situation in eastern Africa, where vet-
erinary services, due to various constraints, should have more
difficulties to run efficient bird flu campaigns based on
slaughtering infected animals and vaccination," Domenech said.
"The countries concerned and the international community have to
make every effort to ensure that bird flu does not become en-
demic in Africa."
"If the virus were to become endemic in eastern Africa, it could
increase the risk of the virus to evolve through mutation or re-
assortment into a strain that could be transmitted to and be-
tween humans," Domenech said. "The close proximity between peo-
ple and animals and insufficient surveillance and disease con-
trol capacities in eastern African countries create an ideal
breeding ground for the virus. The countries urgently need in-
ternational assistance to build up basic surveillance and con-
FAO will assist countries in Africa to strengthen the surveil-
lance on wild and domestic birds and improve laboratory capaci-
ties in order to detect any bird flu outbreak early.
The bird flu risk to European countries due to wild birds is
relatively low at present, according to FAO. However, there is a
significant risk that migratory birds could carry the disease to
western and northern Europe next spring if wild bird populations
are infected during their stay in southern regions. Veterinary
services in Europe are very efficient and strong surveillance
and disease control measures are in place to face this risk.
"It is crucial to remind that the epicentre of the disease cur-
rently remains in southeast Asia where the virus continues to
circulate in several countries and where a pandemic could fi-
nally start if the control of the disease in animals is not suc-
cessful," Domenech said.
Leela McCullough, Ed.D.
Director of Information Services
30 California Street, Watertown, MA 02472, USA