NIGERIA: New bird flu strain confirmed

Thursday, August 14, 2008

A highly pathogenic strain of avian influenza never previously registered in sub-Saharan Africa has been detected in northern Nigeria but local health officials have downplayed the significance.

“After a 10-month lull, we have recorded avian influenza outbreaks in two northern states and laboratory analysis showed that the virus belongs to the sub-type related to a different kind [of bird flu] that is found in Europe,” Ibrahim Ahmed, chief epidemiologist in Nigeria’s Federal Department of Livestock, told IRIN.

The new strain of avian influenza was found on two farms in Kano state and its northern neighbour Katsina in July. It was confirmed as avian flu by the World Reference Laboratory in Italy, Ahmed said.

“It is likely the new strain might have been introduced to the country by migratory birds.”

Avian flu was first recorded in Nigeria on a farm in Jaji in northern Kaduna state in February 2006. From there it quickly spread to 25 out of the country’s 36 states, with Kano being the worst hit.

The country has experienced periodic resurgences of the virus, but up until July 2008, the strain was always the same as the initial H5N1 found on the farm in Jaji, Ahmed said.

The latest outbreak was first reported on 16 July on a poultry farm in Fagen-Kawo village where more than half of the village’s 4,249 chickens died and the remaining 1,665 were culled, said Surajo Ibrahim Gaya, Kano Communication Desk Officer on Avian Influenza.

“This is an indication that our surveillance and control strategies are working as we have successfully controlled the earlier introduction and our surveillance network is vigilant enough to detect this newly introduced strain as soon as it came into the country”, Ahmed said.

Blood and sputum samples of a 25 year-old poultry worker DanHussaini Jibrin, who had had contact with sick chickens, were analysed at Asokoro Reference Laboratory in Nigeria’s capital Abuja where he was quarantined for two days after complaining of mild fever.

“We were relieved the result of the analyses on the worker’s blood and sputum showed no bird flu infection,” Gaya said.

Nigeria has so far recorded one human casualty of the avian influenza in February 2006 when a young girl died of avian flu she contracted while cleaning chicken houses in the country’s commercial capital Lagos.