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Pakistan: Authorities Plays Down Bird Flu Risk

Pakistani authorities on Thursday expressed confidence in their efforts to reduce the risks of further outbreaks of the deadly// H5N1 strain of bird flu, after two separate incidents at poultry farms in the north.

"The season is yet not over [for bird flu], but we have sufficient monitoring and surveillance arrangements in place to check and deal with any sporadic cases that might occur," Muhammad Afzal, a spokesman for Pakistan's Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock, said in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, on Thursday.

Authorities destroyed a small poultry flock with the H5N1 strain of avian influenza in Rawalpindi, close to the capital, on 3 February.

In a separate incident in the Mansehra district of Pakistan's North West Frontier Province on 4 February, 20 peacocks were culled after testing positive for the virus.

According to experts, winter and spring seasons with their low and mild temperatures are considered favourable for the breeding and spread of the virus. It can cause illness and death in humans, but scientists say the chances of being infected remain low. Bird flu can only be contracted by humans if they come into contact with an animal carrying the virus. It cannot be caught from eating cooked poultry.

"The good thing is that so far, we have no reported case of bird flu in humans," said Shadoul Ahmed, head of the United Nations inter-agency bird flu contingency group for the World Health Organization (WHO) in Pakistan, adding: "There seems no chance of any wide-scale outbreak in [poultry] birds either."

In 2004, Pakistan established a nationwide surveillance system to monitor any bird flu outbreaks, while in 2006 health authorities banned the import of poultry products and birds from more than 30 countries where cases of bird flu had been reported.

Moreover, hunting of birds has also been banned across the country to prevent the killing of infected migrat ory birds.

In May 2006, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) provided Pakistan with avian flu detection equipment to help to speed up virus detection. The new equipment helps to identify particular strains of the virus within six hours against 24-72 hours required earlier.

In 2006, Pakistan confirmed the deadly H5N1 strain of avian flu on 28 small poultry farms, resulting in the culling of more than 120,000 birds. However, there have been no reports of bird-to-human or human-to-human cases of bird flu in the country.

In 2003, a mild strain of bird flu, H9 and H7, killed at least 3.5 million chickens in Pakistan's southern port city of Karachi.

"Poultry farmers should vaccinate chicken stocks every two to three months. They should also maintain bio security and there should be no tree in a 3km radius of a poultry shed," Dr Zafar Jamil Gill, director general at Lahore-based Veterinary Research Institute told IRIN.

In a Pakistani context, migratory birds spread the disease, according to veterinary specialists. "People should be extra careful when adding new bird flocks to the old ones during this season," Gill said.

Chicken accounts for up to 45 percent of total meat consumption in the South Asian nation of 158 million. There are about 29,000 poultry farms across Pakistan.

Source-Bio-Bio Technology

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