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UN Approves Limited Poultry Vaccination Campaign - 2004-02-05


U.N. animal and health experts have approved a limited poultry vaccination campaign to help control the spread of avian influenza. The experts say the spread of bird flu is not yet under control.

At the end of a two-day emergency meeting on how to deal with the bird flu emergency, experts recommended a bird flu vaccination campaign to avoid wholesale culling of poultry.

Animal and health experts from three United Nations agencies, who met at the Food and Agriculture Organization headquarters in Rome, said the bird flu epidemic is still spreading.

FAO Director General Jacques Diouf issued a warning.

"The current epidemic seems to be evolving with further expansion anticipated with a grave risk of becoming an established infection in the domestic poultry sector of the region," he said.

Fifty million animals have been destroyed since the start of the outbreak.

Mr. Diouf said there is general agreement among specialists that destroying poultry infected with bird flu is for the time being the better option.

"Stamping out is the preferred control option and should be used on all flocks exhibiting clinical disease," said Jacques Diouf. "It has been highly effective in controlling confined outbreaks where there is limited spread and low risk of re-introduction."

But FAO Assistant Director-General Louise Fresco said limited vaccination of healthy birds is also an option.

"Vaccination must be targeted and it must be part of a whole set of measures to make sure that you have adequate surveillance particularly to catch any early clinical symptoms of the disease," she said.

The vaccine can be used, Ms. Fresco said, to create buffer zones between provinces, countries, and on large-scale farms.

Experts at the conference said that, as long as the infection is present in poultry production systems in Asia, the threat to human health will continue. Sixteen people have died in two countries - Vietnam and Thailand - but 10 Asian nations are battling the bird flu.

The virus is not being passed from one human to the next, but experts fear that the bird flu and human flu viruses could combine and mutate into a new contagious disease.

The U.N. health specialists also recommended improved international coordination and transparent and timely reporting of infections.

The U.N. food agency said implementing these recommendations will be costly, and asked for donor support. The agency gave no cost estimates, but said it was pledging $5.5 million for research into bird flu.