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FAO Investigates Suspected Bird Flu Cases in Southern Nigeria

The Food and Agriculture Organization says it is investigating suspected cases of bird flu virus in three southern Nigerian states. If the cases are confirmed, they could have serious implications for Nigeria.

The Food and Agriculture Organization announced that it is investigating possible cases of H5N1 virus in three southern states: Oyo, Ogun, and Delta.

The leader of the team of experts in Nigeria, Dr. William Amanfu, told VOA that the new tests were in addition to ongoing evaluation of poultry taken from some northern states.

"We have heard rumors that there are suspicions of the disease in Katsina, Yobe, Nasarawa, Borno, Delta, Oyo, Ogun states," said William Amanfu. "Samples have been submitted from some of these fields to the National Veterinary Research Institute, in Vom, for preliminary diagnosis. But the point of the matter is this: that whether it is Avian influenza or any other disease such as Newcastle disease in poultry, rapid disease containment measures must be put in place in order to stop its spread."

The heavily-populated Southwest is also Nigeria's main poultry belt. Experts say if the outbreak in the South is confirmed, this could have profound health and economic implications.

The senior FAO official also called for Nigeria to step up its response to the outbreak.

"On the technical front, the government is mobilizing its personnel internally, they have formed teams for field surveillance, for containment and other things but there is a need for an outbreak management center with rapid communication links to the fields and to the laboratories in order to coordinate findings with respect to suspected outbreaks of the disease and confirmation or negation of rumors of rampant disease outbreaks throughout the country. This is very crucial," said William Amanfu.

Health workers are checking for signs of bird flu infections among poultry workers. Though no human infection has been detected, more detailed tests involving analyzing blood samples are expected to be carried out in the next few days.

International health experts from the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Health Organization, and the World Organization for Animal Health are in Nigeria to help authorities contain any virus outbreak.