|Credit OIE - Dec 2014-Present|
After going more than 5 years without a report of H5N1, over the past 18 months Western Africa has become a hotbed of avian flu activity, and this time, it is due to a new - potentially more dangerous - clade of the virus (see EID Journal: HPAI A(H5N1) clade 188.8.131.52c In West Africa).
Western Africa hasn't reported any human infections since a single case in 2007, although how much that has to do with luck, the virus, or a simple lack of testing and reporting is hard to say.
Last summer, in FAO: Concerns Rising Over Spread Of Avian Flu In Africa and again last October in WHO Scales Up Influenza Surveillance In Africa we looked at growing concerns over the recent spread of highly pathogenic avian flu in Africa and the very limited surveillance and reporting from the region.
If you look at a map of the migratory bird flyways (see above), you see that West Africa sits at the southern intersection of no fewer than three migratory flyways. Routes that begin in the northern climes of Russia, Mongolia, and China where H5N1 is known to circulate in wild birds – and that cross both Europe and the Middle East.
Today the FAO is calling for increased vigilance by all affected countries, and their neighbors, lest this avian virus become firmly entrenched in the region.
As H5N1 spreads in West and Central Africa FAO calls for increased vigilance
Cameroon becomes latest country in region to detect virulent bird flu
For the first time since 2006, the H5N1 bird flu virus has been found in Cameroon, putting the number of countries in the region who have battled the virus at six.
13 July 2016, Rome - Countries across West and Central Africa are on alert as the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus H5N1continues to spread across the region, with Cameroon becoming the latest African country to detect the disease. The strain can infect and cause death in humans and kills poultry at a high rate.
The latest H5N1 outbreaks were recently confirmed on chicken farms in Cameroon putting the poultry production in the country and its neighbours at high risk. This is the first time the disease has been found in Central Africa since 2006.
This brings the number of countries that have battled bird flu in West and Central Africa to six, also including Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Niger and Nigeria.
FAO is working closely with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) to offer member-countries assistance, such as risk assessments, contingency planning, technical advice and laboratory material. They also help with investigating potential avian influenza cases in animals and humans and locating the source of infection.
In Cameroon, FAO is boosting the local veterinary services' capacity to respond rapidly to new outbreaks and is working with the government to finalize an action plan similar to effective plans applied in other countries stricken by the virus.
Response interventions include culling infected and exposed poultry, disinfecting premises and markets and safely disposing of dead birds.
Veterinary officers, meanwhile, are encouraged to use basic techniques like "trace-forward" - which looks at where infected animals have been sold or moved to - and "trace backward" - examining where infected animals were purchased or where they came from - to find sources with the ultimate goal of halting continuous virus introduction or further spread.
A major concern is that the disease may become endemic in the entire region, particularly in Nigeria where avian influenza has become so entrenched in poultry production and marketing systems that it will be difficult to eliminate.
For that reason, producers and traders need to be made aware about the clinical signs of the disease symptoms, how and to whom to report it, and implement good hygiene practices to halt its spread.
FAO will continue assisting governments in mobilizing funds to combat H5N1, in addition to the agency's own efforts to help boost local veterinary systems, strengthen laboratories, and deploying FAO specialists to affected and at-risk countries.
The first assessment mission and distribution of equipment in Cameroon was made possible by funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). FAO is seeking $20 million to support its regional response to H5N1.