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Nigeria Hit by Several Different Bird Flu Strains at Different Times, says Study

A new study says the bird flu outbreak in Nigeria resulted from multiple sources at different times. Researchers from Luxembourg’s National Public Health Laboratory report their findings today in the journal “Nature.”

Dr. Claude Muller is the head of the laboratory’s Institute of Immunology. He spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about what’s known and not known about Nigeria’s bird flu outbreak.

“We don’t know what the source of transmission was. In other words, whether it came by illicit trade or whether it came by migratory birds or maybe any other way. But what we can see and this became apparent from the analysis of the genetic characteristics of the viruses that the virus has not been introduced just once into the country, but several times,” he says.

They were able to say where the strains may have come from. “Those viruses that we have detected in the southwest of Nigeria are most closely related to viruses that have also been seen in Egypt and then in southwestern Russia and in Western Europe,” he says.

Asked why it is difficult to determine whether the bird flu strains entered through trade or by migratory birds, Dr. Muller says, “All we can do really is, as scientists of course, look at the relationship between viruses in other countries…a virus we detect in one country like Nigeria, we compare it to other viruses and then we say, well, it comes from that part of the world. Of course, we know then in which birds the virus has been found in that part of the world. But we cannot say a similar virus has been found in poultry in southwest Russia, therefore, it has been taken to Nigeria with poultry. This we cannot say because there’s always the possibility that wild birds have picked up the virus and then taken it to Nigeria.”

So what lessons can be learned from the findings?” Dr. Muller says, “When the virus started in the north of Nigeria the government had implemented, well let’s say, a bio-safety belt…when we detected in the south of Lagos then we were of course afraid that this bio-security belt had broken down. But then when we analyzed the virus we noticed that these are different viruses because the two farms we have seen in the south have two viruses that are again distinct from each other.”

So, while the bio-security belt apparently held in the north, other strains of the virus managed to enter other parts of the country. Dr. Muller says developing countries need better laboratories to detect bird flu early and need the resources to quickly respond.