CAIRO: Minister of Health Hatem El-Gabali said yesterday that although the avian flu virus has been nearly eliminated in farms, the disease is likely to remain in Egypt for years because of birds raised in households.
Bird flu in Egypt now is controlled by 98.5 percent compared to our worst days in the middle of March, El-Gabali told a gathering of the American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt.
The government received some 7 tons of vaccinations for the lethal H5N1 strain of the virus as well as the more benign H5N2 strain last month from Mexico.
The use of vaccination is controversial because of disputes over its effectiveness and concerns that it may prevent the distinction between healthy and infected birds once they are vaccinated.
The crucial factor that turned things around is vaccination, says El-Gabali. You ve heard a lot about the vaccination of the birds and there was a lot of talk about its effectiveness. The only thing I can give an answer to is that vaccination has practically eradicated the disease in 99 percent of the farms.
The government has also offered free inoculation to households that keep birds, but the eradication of the virus amongst household birds has been difficult.
We send every single day 30 teams in all the governorates to collect samples from households and farms, says El-Gabali. We have analyzed about 5,000 samples to date in the last month and a half.
Twenty samples tested positively for the virus since the surveys began. Of these, 19 were in households.
It is a very dangerous finding, because it tells you that there is still very strong contact between man and birds in households, says El-Gabali.
But families have resisted the destruction of infected birds because they appear healthy.
Household birds are vaccinated for free at the expense of the government, says El-Gabalim, but the difficulty we are facing in households is that we go, analyze, check the birds, do the analysis [and] it is positive. But the birds look normal so the family refuses to give us the birds. That s the main issue. They don t feel sick and they start fighting with out people and we have to get the police to take the birds.
This is the main reason for El-Gabali s assessment that the avian flu virus will persist for years in Egypt.
We still have pockets scattered in the country, says El-Gabali, and it s not only one governorate; many governorates are affected. So I would expect [that] although we will have a campaign by the end of July or the beginning of September … we will have bird flu again next October [or] November, but to a much less extent than we had in the first year because of the vaccination.
Meanwhile, a study by the Dutch environmental group Wetlands International and the French research organization CIRAD allays fears of the extensive spread of the disease from Africa to Europe by way of migratory birds.
The study investigated thousands of wild birds in Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe.
No evidence was found for Highly Pathogenic (HP) H5N1 in the samples from wild birds from Africa, Wetlands says in a statement. This is an important outcome as many feared that through the sequence of Autumn and Spring migration, HP H5N1 would be carried by wild birds from the outbreak areas into Africa and then back up into Europe.
The group therefore suggests that authorities focus on measures to contain the domestic spread the disease within the poultry trade.
While there is a need to stay alert on the situation in wild birds, far more attention needs to be given to monitoring and controlling the transport of poultry and other live birds and bird products, says Wetland.