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Kenya Taking Steps to Counter Bird Flu

The Kenyan government Friday outlined measures it has taken to monitor the presence of bird flu in Kenya and to deal with it if it does come.

Director of Medical Services Dr. James Nyikal told reporters in Nairobi he and his colleagues are worried about birds flying into Africa from areas infected with the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu.

The virus was recently discovered to have spread to Turkey, Romania and Russia, lending credence to the theory that birds migrating from Asia to Africa are also carrying the virus.

Dr. Nyikal says his country is preparing for the worst-case scenario.

"The Ministry of Health is working closely with the World Health Organization in exploring measures to deal with possible avian flu outbreak," said Dr. Nyikal. "The Ministry of Health is monitoring very closely every development on avian flu around the world, and is constantly reviewing the country's avian flu epidemic preparedness and response plans."

Following an alert notice issued by the World Health Organization, WHO, last year, several government ministries, universities, a research institute and the World Health Organization formed a working group in Kenya to develop and coordinate a response strategy.

Some measures that have been taken include: encouraging all health facilities to watch out for suspected bird flu cases; upgrading laboratories to confirm suspected cases of the virus; making arrangements with the World Health Organization to get the anti-viral drug Tamiflu in case the virus should spread to humans; and properly destroying exposed, infected, and dead chickens.

Dr. Nyikal also urged Kenyans to take precautionary measures.

"We would like to advise Kenyans to report immediately to the nearest public health officer or veterinary officer should they note any deaths of poultry or wild birds," Dr. Nyikal added. "We further advise that any sick looking poultry should not be slaughtered and eaten. Dead birds should be burned and buried deep."

Kenya joins other African countries in taking measures to protect themselves from bird flu infection. Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Sudan, Senegal and Ghana have recently banned imports of poultry from parts of Asia affected by the virus.

Bird flu is an infection caused by avian influenza viruses. Wild birds carry these viruses in their intestines, but usually do not get sick from them. But bird flu, which is very contagious among birds, can kill chickens, ducks, turkeys and other domesticated birds.

Bird flu usually does not jump over into humans, but there have been reported cases of humans being infected by, and dying from, the virus. It has killed more than 60 people in Asia since 2003.

The big fear is that the virus could mutate so that it would be passed along from human to human. If this becomes the case, experts warn that up to 150 million people could die from the virus worldwide.