UN agency warns of new global bird flu threat
The UN food agency yesterday warned the world risked a surge in bird flu outbreaks unless countries strengthen their monitoring against dangerous animal diseases despite economic hardship. “The continuing international economic downturn means less money is available for prevention of H5N1 bird flu and other threats of animal origin,” Juan Lubroth, chief veterinary officer at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said in a statement. “Even though everyone knows that prevention is better than cure, I am worried because in the current climate governments are unable to keep up their guard,” he was quoted as saying. The Rome-based agency warned large reservoirs of the H5N1 virus still exist in parts of Asia and the Middle East where the disease has become endemic. “Without adequate controls, it could easily spread globally as it did at its peak in 2006, when 63 countries were affected,” the agency said.

The virus killed more than 300 people between 2003 and 2011, as well as forcing the culling of 400 million domestic chickens and ducks and causing an estimated $20 billion (15 billion euros) in damages. The FAO also cautioned of the growing threat from Peste des Petits Ruminants, or PPR, a highly contagious disease that affects sheep and goats. FAO said the virus, for which a vaccine exists, had wrought havoc in the Democratic Republic of Congo and was spilling over into southern Africa. Among the prevention measures against animal diseases recommended by FAO are improved general hygiene, market and border controls and health inspections in farms and markets, as well as equipment and training for laboratories. Two Cambodian girls have died from bird flu, health authorities said yesterday, raising the toll from the deadly infection in the kingdom to four so far this year.

The victims, a 17-month-old girl and a nine-year-old girl, from the southern provinces of Kampot and Kampong Speu, died Monday in hospital, the World Health Organization said in a joint statement with the Cambodian health ministry. Tests on the girls, whose villages had recorded recent deaths among poultry, confirmed they had contracted the H5N1 strain of avian influenza, the statement added. Last week Cambodia said two people-a 15-year-old girl and a 35-year-old man, had died from the H5N1 strain contracted while preparing infected chicken. Cambodia has recorded 26 cases of H5N1 since 2003 with all but three of the victims dying. The virus has killed 364 people worldwide since a major outbreak in 2003, according to WHO statistics. It typically spreads from birds to humans through direct contact, but experts fear it could mutate into a form easily transmissible between humans, with the potential to trigger a pandemic. — AFP

 
- Kuwait Times
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