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Thursday,October 22,2020 05:59 AM

Bird flu: How ready are we?

By Vision Reporter

Added 7th March 2006 03:00 AM

THE avian influenza (bird flu) virus is devastating bird populations around the globe. Its arrival into Africa Nigeria, Egypt and Ethiopia is particularly alarming. But if the virus acquires the ability to jump easily between humans it could unleash a pandemic, killing millions of people within mon

THE avian influenza (bird flu) virus is devastating bird populations around the globe. Its arrival into Africa Nigeria, Egypt and Ethiopia is particularly alarming. But if the virus acquires the ability to jump easily between humans it could unleash a pandemic, killing millions of people within mon

By Fred Ouma
and Gerald Tenywa


THE avian influenza (bird flu) virus is devastating bird populations around the globe. Its arrival into Africa Nigeria, Egypt and Ethiopia is particularly alarming. But if the virus acquires the ability to jump easily between humans it could unleash a pandemic, killing millions of people within months.

The lethal H5N1 virus strain, which originated in southeast Asia in 2003, has spread to the Middle East, Europe, India and Africa, has infected 174 people since late 2003, mainly through contact with birds. At least 94 of those patients have died and more than 200 million fowl worldwide have been culled or died as the virus spreads.

But scientists believe there have been a few cases of human-to-human transmission.

They agree a human pandemic would be particularly catastrophic in developing countries like Uganda where poor living conditions, medical, veterinary and laboratory services, lack of health education, porous borders and high mortality rates from other diseases are a common fact of life.

So, is Uganda at risk of an outbreak?
“Very,” says Dr. Chris Rutebarika, the assistant commissioner for disease control in the ministry of agriculture.
“Avian influenza is a recognised trans-boundary disease. Being in the Western Rift Valley, which is a migratory flyway, is a definite risk.

“Thus, Uganda is susceptible to the outbreak as it hosts a big population of migratory birds responsible for spreading the deadly flu during migration periods,” Rutebarika told members of the Poultry Association of Uganda in Kampala recently.

As of March 6, no presence of bird flu has been confirmed in Uganda.
The director general for health services at the ministry of health and co-chairman for the National Task Force on bird flu, Dr. Sam Okware, dismissed media reports that thousands of chickens were dying of avian influenza.

On Sunday, The Monitor reported that thousands of birds had died in poultry farms in several districts in central and eastern Uganda, with health and veterinary authorities fearing that it could be bird flu.

“Where are these thousand birds? There should be no panic. All the nine samples collected in three months from Kampala and Entebbe areas around Lake Victoria and sent to the Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) in Nairobi for testing, were negative. Ugandan chicken are therefore free of bird flu.”
In poultry, H5N1 kills 50 to 100% within hours. The incubation period is usually three to seven days, depending on the virus type, the dose of virus, the species and age of the bird.

“The wild birds carry the viruses inside their intestines and rarely get sick or show signs. But present signs similar to those of new castle disease,” he adds.
While it is not clear what the exact effects of bird flu virus on humans are, contact with the virus is capable of causing disease in humans.

Nicholas Kauta, the commissioner for animal health and entomology in the agriculture ministry, says all human cases have coincided with H5N1 outbreaks in poultry. He says the risk of catching the virus is greatest during the slaughtering and preparation of infected birds. However, he says it is safe to eat properly cooked poultry.

In humans, signs of bird flu resemble those of common flues. They include muscle aches, fever, coughing, sore throat and breathing problems. Others are diarrhoea, vomiting, abdominal or chest pain and bleeding from the nose and gums. In worst cases that cause deaths, the person infected will develop acute respiratory, pneumonia and multiple organ failure.

Although no cases of epidemic have been reported in Uganda, poultry farmers are being warned to lock up their birds in the event of an outbreak of the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu. But farmers believe such a precaution poses more of a challenge than a solution for the poultry industry, which is dominantly ‘free range system’.

Charles Obonyo, a poultry farmer in Tororo says, “While the measure is effective, it only works for developed countries where the poultry management system is highly organised.”

The Government has undertaken several preparatory steps to counter the virus, should it strike. A multi-sectoral Task Force has been constituted comprising ministries of health, agriculture, and tourism and trade, Uganda Wildlife Authority, poultry associations and development partners to prepare and set up an emergency response mechanism.

Government is also to embark on sensitise campains about the flu. The move is to complement the partial ban on all poultry imports. Dr Kauta says if the disease is cited in Uganda, the preferred measure would be to kill all suspected birds and compensate the owners.

In Uganda, highly susceptible backyard poultry, abject poverty and impoverished health services already struggling with the burden of AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, mean a new human virus could easily spread undetected, rendering vaccines and anti-virals useless.
Currently, the only cure for bird flu is a vaccine — TamiFlu and Relenza. However, both vaccines are not available in Uganda yet.

Chemotherapy used to treat a rare immune disorder may also help people infected with the H5N1 virus. But as it is in most African countries, Uganda’s households share accommodation with chicken. Dr. Miriam Munyunja, a WHO health expert says in the event of an outbreak, the situation could get out of control.


Avoiding Bird flu: Dos and don'ts
  • Wash hand after handling birds and their droppings.


  • Avoid poultry farms and markets when there is an outbreak of bird flu

  • Avoid contact with chicken, ducks or other poultry unless absolutely necessary.

  • Do not share accommodation with poultry.

  • Teach children to avoid contact with any birds.

  • Avoid transporting infected birds to other areas

  • Wear protective clothing before handling infected birds

  • Do not prepare poultry from affected areas as food.

  • Check for bird flu if the birds have ruffled feather or there is slowing down in laying of the eggs.

  • Inform authorities immediately if you suspect the flu in any birds

  • Disinfect the chicken pen to control the spread of the disease.

  • Do not eat poultry meat in affected areas where bird flu has been confirmed.

  • Seek assistance from the authority on how to bury dead birds.

  • Anyone with flu-like illness should be careful with secretion from nose and mouth when around other people. Precautions should be taken when visiting friends and relatives in hospitals.

  • Ensure that poultry and poultry products are properly cooked to an internal temperature of 70 degrees Celsius or above.

  • A person preparing the food of infected birds is at a risk of becoming infected.

  • Bird flu: How ready are we?

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