While still reeling from the Covid-19 pandemic, Pacific island nations and territories are now on high alert due to an outbreak of the Avian Influenza affecting several poultry farms in the Australian state of Victoria.
The Pacific Community's (SPC) Animal Health and Production (AH&P) is encouraging all Pacific countries to maintain strict quarantine controls to prevent the introduction of the virus.
Highly pathogenic, AI is a serious poultry disease that can cause high mortality in bird species used for commercial purposes.
“The cost in both financial and human terms can be heavy if we are not prepared," said Elenoa Salele, SPC AHP technician,
“We also need to get the message out to colleagues in the health and animal sectors and other sectors, and to communities. People need to know in simple terms what ‘avian influenza’ and ‘influenza pandemic’ mean, what effects they have, how they are spread, what they need to look out for, how they should respond if there is an outbreak, and how they can look after themselves during an outbreak.”
Salele advises all countries to test and strengthen their national preparedness plans.
The Solomon Islands government has already taken action and suspended imports of poultry products from Australia. The prohibition includes meat products, egg products and live birds/chickens.
Three different strains of the avian flu have been identified by Victoria Agriculture: AI H7N7 was detected at an egg farm in the Golden Plains Shire, AI H7N6 at an emu farm near Kerang in the Gannawarra Shire, while AI H5N2 was detected in poultry at a property in Lethbridge, and another near Bairnsdale. A total of six farms have reportedly been affected by AI since the first farm detection on July 31.
While most AI viruses do not infect humans, some viruses such as the H5N1 strains have caused serious infections in people.
According to the World Health Organization, a total of 238 cases of human infection with avian influenza A(H5N1) virus were reported from four countries within the Western Pacific Region from January 2003 to Aug. 13 . Of these cases, 134 were fatal, resulting in a case fatality rate of 56 percent. The last case was reported from China, with an onset date of Dec.27, 2015 (one case, no death).