The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has issued a new warning to the international community that the H7N9 and H5N1 avian influenza viruses could re-emerge.
The FAO said bird flu continues to pose serious threats to human and animal health, especially in view of the upcoming flu season.
A statement issued and signed by Erwin Northoff of the FAO Media Relations in Rome, and copied to the Ghana News Agency on Tuesday noted that international experts recommend vigilance and promote targeted surveillance, market restructuring to fight H7N9, H5N1 and other threats.
“The world is more prepared than ever before to respond to bird flu viruses in light of a decade of work on H5N1 and the recent response to H7N9,” it cited FAO Chief Veterinary Officer Juan Lubroth at a joint meeting with United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the World Health Organization and the World Organization for Animal Health.
“However, constant vigilance is required,” Lubroth said. “Bird flu viruses continue to circulate in poultry. Efforts must continue and be strengthened, not only in affected countries, but also in neighbouring states and areas with strong trade linkages. This is especially true for H7N9 since it causes no clinical signs in birds and is therefore very difficult to detect in poultry.”
It said along these lines, FAO has committed $2 million of emergency funding supplemented by over $5 million from USAID to kick-start H7N9 response efforts, adding that USAID support has enabled FAO to help countries at risk dramatically improve surveillance capacities.
“Several at-risk countries previously unable to pick up the virus can now accurately detect H7N9,” explained Lubroth. “Identifying the virus with consistency is critical to targeting control efforts and reducing spread.”
The statement quoted Dennis Carroll, Director of USAID’s Emerging Threats Program, as saying that: “The early detection and excellent characterization of the H7N9 virus by Chinese experts has created an unprecedented opportunity to mount a coordinated effort to stop the further spread of the virus – and thwart a possible global event.
“Significant progress over the past decade in forging national and international partnerships and validating interventions for control of avian influenza can be immediately adapted to addressing the threat posed by the H7N9 virus.”
It said: “FAO and USAID stress that more work is required. In the short term this includes continued, targeted surveillance and trace back throughout the production and marketing system, contingency planning and compensation scheme development.”
The statement said in the longer-term fight against H7N9 and other viruses, FAO and USAID are urging countries to invest in improving the way they market and sell poultry.
“FAO continues its call for funds to bolster the global H7N9 response. FAO is urging countries to make key investments in improving markets and promoting healthy food systems to fight viruses affecting animals and humans as part of overarching efforts to ensure the animal sector realizes its potential in the promotion of healthy and productive lives,” the statement said.