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Farmers must cooperate to stamp out bird flu

The UN' Food and Agriculture Organization urged poultry farmers to cooperate with local authorities to stamp out bird flu as the virus spreads in Asia, saying many outbreaks probably go unreported. Hungarian authorities are investigating a suspected outbreak.

Bans on raising birds in backyards, such as the one being rolled out in Indonesia, may lead to illegal poultry production, the Rome-based FAO said today in a statement. Instead of banning production, farmers should be encouraged to vaccinate day-old chicks and take other virus control measures, FAO said. Fresh outbreaks in Japan, Thailand and Vietnam raise the concern of international disease trackers who are monitoring the virus in the event it spawns a global pandemic. The H5N1 avian flu strain may spread further as the weather gets colder in Europe and nations including China prepare to slaughter fowl for lunar New Year celebrations next month, FAO said. „It is crucial that countries themselves step up their surveillance, detection and rapid response measures,” Juan Lubroth, senior officer at the FAO's animal health agency, said in the statement. „Farmers should be encouraged to participate in virus control and vaccination

ampaigns.” The H5N1 strain is known to have infected 269 people in 10 countries since 2003, killing 163 of them, the Geneva-based WHO said yesterday. Bird flu deaths in 2006 exceeded those in the prior three years combined. Last year, 80 people were killed by the virus, compared with 2005, 2004 and 2003 fatalities at 42, 32 and 4 people respectively. This year, the lethal virus has killed five people in Indonesia and Egypt. Thailand reported H5N1 in fowl at a poultry farm in a northeastern province, the second outbreak in less than a week. The H5N1 strain killed chickens in Nong Khai province, 615 kilometers (380 miles) northeast of Bangkok, the Department of Livestock Development said in a faxed statement today.

In Japan, about 250 birds at a farm of about 50,000 chickens in the southern Japanese prefecture of Miyazaki may have died from the H5N1 virus, government-affiliated NHK television reported today. Last week, Japan ordered poultry farms nationwide to provide weekly updates on the health of their flocks to give an early warning of new outbreaks of avian flu. Hungarian authorities are investigating a suspected outbreak in the southern part of the country. About 40 geese among a flock of 3,300 began showing avian flu symptoms on January 21 and several have died, MTI reported, citing State Secretary for Agriculture Fülöp Benedek. „As long as the virus continues to circulate in birds, the threat of a pandemic will persist,” Margaret Chan, director-general of the WHO, said in a statement on the WHO's Web Site. „The world is years away from control in the agricultural sector.”

Almost all H5N1 cases have been linked to close contact with sick or dead birds, such as children playing with them or adults butchering them or plucking feathers, according to the WHO. In Indonesia, test results showed the 20-year-old woman who died two days ago in Sulianti Saroso Hospital in Jakarta didn't have the virus, said Muhammad Nadirin, an official at the Indonesian Health Ministry's avian flu information center. More than five people are being treated for suspected avian flu in hospitals in the country's Java and Sulawesi islands, Nadirin said. The H5N1 strain has spread in poultry to 30 of Indonesia's 33 provinces, and led to the deaths of at least 62 people there since July 2005, more than any country. (Bloomberg)