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Bird Flu Concerns Persist in Nigeria Before Holiday Festivities


With the approach of Christmas and Muslims marking Sallah, poultry consumption in Nigeria is expected to reach an all-time high this month. As Gilbert da Costa reports for VOA from Abuja, recent reports indicating the virus remains entrenched in Nigeria and an outbreak in neighboring Benin have prompted fresh concerns about bird flu infecting humans in Nigeria.

Health officials in northern Nigeria are disinfecting poultry markets in a bid to stem cases of bird flu before Christmas and the Muslim festival of Sallah, this month.

Despite efforts to deal with the deadly H5N1 strain since it was first reported in Nigeria nearly two years ago, experts say the virus is still entrenched in the country and remains a worldwide threat.

Nigeria Veterinary Association president Dr. Garba Sharabutu says control and elimination have become a huge challenge to the authorities.

"There is no way we can boast of eradicating this disease because of the nature of the disease. It will take a very long time for us to get out of the disease," said Sharabutu. "And the only thing we still continue to do, is surveillance and cross-checking. We can control the disease just like we are trying to do right now."

Poultry consumption is expected to peak during the next few days.

Nigeria 's western neighbor, Benin, last week declared its first outbreak of bird flu, and coupled with Nigeria 's limited success in containing the virus, alarm bells are ringing once again.

Sharabutu says having a poultry meal this holiday period should not invoke any particular fear, provided the source of supply is certified safe.

"I can say that right now, the situation is under control and there is no risk in trading in livestock," added Sharabutu. "The number of outbreaks has substantially reduced. It will not constitute any problem if our people continue to trade in these animals, provided those farms that animals are coming from, are guaranteed avian flu-free."

Nigeria, the continent's most populous nation with about 140 million people, reported sub-Saharan Africa's first human bird-flu death earlier this year.

There have been more than 200 human deaths globally from H5N1 strain and 340 confirmed cases of infection since 2003, according to the World Health Organization data.