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EU, FAO Launch Project to Curb Bird Flu in Nigeria


The European Union is providing nearly $700,000 to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) to look for cases of avian influenza in Nigeria. The surveillance program aims to help eradicate the disease from Africa's most populous country.

The six-month project involves a comprehensive study on the incidence, spread and impact of bird flu in Nigeria, as a means of eradicating the disease in the West African country.

More than 200 health workers will travel across the country to look for cases of avian influenza.

The H5N1 virus was first detected in chicken in the northern state of Kaduna in January, and it quickly spread to 13 of Nigeria's 36 states, as well as the capital city.

Nigerian officials say the disease has now been contained, but international experts say the true extent of the problem remains largely unknown.

United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization representative in Nigeria Helder Muteai says the active surveillance will help establish the extent of bird flu outbreak in Nigeria.

"We have about 14 states and [including] the capital territory, Abuja, with reported avian flu cases. But, nobody knows the extent of the disease in Nigeria. We know that about 40 local governments have been affected," he said.

Nigeria, the first African country to detect the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu, has not detected any human cases of the disease. However, there are fears that the prolonged existence of the virus in Nigeria increases the risk of human infection, as Dr. Muteai explains.

"In Africa, we have to be very careful because of the close relationship between birds and humans, especially in the rural areas, animals sometimes even sleep within the same premises," he said. "That is a very dangerous situation. That is why we have to take it seriously in Nigeria."

The H5N1 virus can infect people who come into close contact with sick birds. The World Health Organization says 247 people have contracted the virus since 2003, and at least 144 of them have died.