The UN Food and Agriculture Organization says despite “substantial progress” in efforts to control bird flu, the disease “continues to spread to new countries and new areas.”
The FAO says the H5N1 virus, which causes bird flu, remains a threat to people living and working near poultry. And it also remains a threat to the income of poultry farmers and the availability of nutritious food.
Joseph Domenech, the FAO’s Chief Veterinary Officer, sums up efforts to control bird flu this way.
“We have the two things. One is progress. Second is still worrying,” he says.
Domenech says many countries are now better prepared for outbreaks.
“Progress is because in many countries they have managed to control the disease or eradicate it,” he says.
And the number of outbreaks compared to three years ago is much lower.
He says, “Today, countries such as Vietnam, big parts of China, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and many others have made good progress in terms of controlling the disease.”
But the H5N1 virus has not been wiped out and it can infect or re-infect bird and poultry populations.
He says, “The virus still circulates in many places such as Asia and definitely Africa. So we have a constant threat of transport introduction infection of new countries, which have always been free from the disease or which have been able to eradicate the virus.”
Domenech says countries must be on constant alert so they can act quickly if suspected cases of bird flu are found. For example, the FAO considers Indonesia, Egypt and Nigeria reservoirs for the H5N1 virus.
“In Indonesia, Egypt and Nigeria, the situation is still very worrying. The worst one being Indonesia of course because of the importance of the population and the importance of the poultry population. The number of outbreaks means the shedding of the virus and possible contamination of humans. This is the main worrying situation where the risk is still to see a pandemic to appear,” he says.
Scientists fear the virus could mutate and directly threaten humans. That is, instead of occasionally being transmitted from birds to humans it could also be transmitted from person to person. At least 13 people have died of bird flu this year. The FAO says there have been bird flu outbreaks in 56 countries in Africa, Asia and Europe since 2003.