BANGKOK, Thailand, August
5, 2004 (ENS): A veterinary network for Southeast Asia
has been launched to bolster the campaign against renewed outbreaks
of avian influenza, according to United Nations animal health officials.
Two similar networks for South and East Asia will be formed shortly.
After a period of quiescence in Southeast Asia, outbreaks of highly
pathogenic avian influenza of the A/H5N1 strain are again being
reported in chickens and ducks in China, Indonesia, Thailand and
"The outbreaks in birds pose a significant threat to human
health," the World Health Organization (WHO) warned on Friday.
"The risk of emergence of a new human pandemic virus will
remain as long as the avian influenza virus exists in the environment,"
WHO said. "Without significant increase in control efforts
at national and international levels, it may be years before the
virus is eradicated."
In Thailand, new avian flu outbreaks have been reported in 21 of
76 provinces; and in Vietnam outbreaks were reported in the northern,
central and southern parts of the country.
These outbreaks, many without apparent epidemiological links to
each other, suggest A/H5N1 is now widely prevalent and is very likely
to have become endemic.
This viral strain caused more than 100 million birds to be destroyed
across Asia earlier this year; 23 people died as a result.
In association with the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE)
and WHO, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) launched
the first veterinary network for Southeast Asia at a three day regional
meeting of veterinary officers and laboratory experts that ended
Friday in Bangkok.
The FAO said it will provide around $1.2 million for the creation
of these subregional veterinary networks.
"Avian influenza, which continues to pose a serious threat
to human and animal health requires rapid and effective national
and regional responses. While individual countries have made some
progress, only regional cooperation is likely to achieve success,"said
Joseph Domenech, chief of the FAO Animal Health Service.
"National borders cannot stop the disease from spreading,"
The veterinary networks will offer training and information exchange
platforms for national laboratories and surveillance teams from
23 Asian countries.
The Southeast Asia network will cover Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia,
Malaysia, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Thailand, East
Timor and Vietnam.
The network for South Asia will include Afghanistan, Bangladesh,
Bhutan, India, Maldives, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka.
In East Asia, China, Japan, Mongolia and both North and South Korea
"Our aim is to improve the quality of diagnosis and epidemiological
data," Domenech said. "This will help countries to judge
the effectiveness of their control campaigns, identify weaknesses
or share success stories. Therefore, the region will be in a much
better position to respond to the avian influenza threat,"
The World Health Organization says this virus "has the potential
to ignite a global influenza pandemic in humans."
In a number of these outbreaks since the beginning of 2004, the
virus has jumped from infected chickens or ducks directly to humans,
WHO pointed out. These direct human infections have produced severe
and sometimes fatal outcomes.
"WHO's continuing concern is that this virus may reassort
its genes with those from a human influenza virus, thereby acquiring
the ability to move easily from human to human and thus triggering
a pandemic," the agency said.
Although there have been several informal reports of human illnesses
in connection with the latest outbreaks of avian influenza, WHO
says it has no confirmation of these cases.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2004. All Rights Reserved.