Media reports - particularly from developing countries - are not always the most reliable source of information on disease outbreaks like avian flu. Many rely heavily on hyperbole, rumor, or supposition - and so Caveat Lector is always in order.
Far too often, however, they are the only thing we have available.
Yesterday, in Watching Egypt Again . . ., we looked at ongoing silence of Egypt's MOH, media reports of a recent human bird flu case, and the general inability of surveillance to capture many (or most) human H5N1 infections.
Overnight media sources in the West African nation of Cameroon have lit up with reports of three suspected H5N1 cases - and while these reports are murky and unverified - Cameroon has been battling multiple HPAI H5N1 outbreaks since May.
A visit to République du Cameroun Ministère de la Santé Publique reveals nothing of note, and a site search for Grippe Aviaire or H5N1 returns no results. There are, however, a lot of pictures of officials looking very official.
Typical of the reports (and this is offered without endorsement), is this one from fr.allafrica.com. While plausible, as you'll see, there's a decided lack of specifics at this time.
First the report, then I'll return with a bit more on avian flu surveillance in West Africa.
They have been contaminated in Bafoussam and Yaounde find in recent days.After the chickens, H5N1 has he already attacked the man in the department of MiFi? In recent days, the prefect of the department seeks to see clearly. Indeed, during a meeting he chaired Friday, 8 September, on educating poultry farmers in respect of the measures enacted by the governor of the western region, to fight bird flu, a revelation to him was made by the delegate district livestock, fisheries and animal industries, Bafoussam 3rd.This indicated that in the context of missions controls and vigils in his unit, she made aware of the series of deaths in chickens in a farm in Tocket district, belonging to a lady. Only when she visited the farm the next day, great was his surprise.Since the farm had a herd of 600 subjects had been emptied by night. Worst neighbors trust in the responsible MINEPIA that the three children of the owner of the farm in question suffered recently from the flu and a chronic cough. In order to check itself, the MINEPIA Borough delegate will visit the lady and will find that nobody was there.The neighbors inform it moved to Yaoundé with her sick children for care. Except as authorities fear that the symptoms presented are the result of transmission of H5N1 from poultry to humans, and that taking inappropriate load can produce new infections. Joseph Tangwa Fover instructed an investigation to find the woman and her sick children to the quarantine, waiting to clear the disease from which they suffer.(Continue . .. )
Admittedly, this all seems pretty thin, and a flu-like illness could mean anything - including seasonal flu. So we'll have to wait and see.
Maybe we'll hear more, maybe we won't.
In any event, with the return of avian flu to West Africa in December of 2014 - after an absence of roughly 7 years - H5N1 has quickly become entrenched in Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Niger, Togo, and Nigeria.
So much so that last July we saw the latest in a series of concerned FAO Calls For Increased Vigilance On H5N1 In Africa.
While no human infections have been reported in West Africa since 2007, there are serious doubts whether the limited medical and surveillance resources in the region would pick up sporadic cases.
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 some of these surveillance challenges.
Even in countries where they are actively looking for avian flu infections, the evidence suggests only a fraction are ever identified (see EID Journal: H5N1 In Egypt).
So, no one should be terribly surprised if, and when, H5N1 cases are eventually identified in West Africa.