Bird Flu Rears Its Ugly Head Again In Nigeria
THESE are not the best of times for the poultry phase of the Nigerian agricultural sector as the country battles with the outbreak of H5 strain of avian influenza, popularly known as bird flu.
Avian influenza refers to the disease caused by infection with avian (bird) influenza (flu) Type A viruses. These viruses occur naturally among wild aquatic birds worldwide and can infect domestic poultry and other bird and animal species. Avian flu viruses do not normally infect humans. However, sporadic human infections with avian flu viruses have occurred.
Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina, had on Wednesday declared that bird flu has spread to 21 commercial farms in seven states: Lagos, Kano, Ogun, Delta, Rivers, Edo and Plateau.
The warning came on the heels of a similar alarm by the Lagos State Government. The state Commissioner for Agriculture and Cooperative, Gbolahan Lawal and his Health counterpart, Dr Jide Idris had last week revealed that bird flu had hit the state, adding that about 2,000 infected birds had already been killed in a poultry farm in Badore area of the state because of the virus.
The government said that the birds were killed during intensive surveillance which has been mounted in all major poultry farms in the state to prevent spread of the deadly disease.
Although Lawal did not disclose the name of the poultry farm for security reasons, he said that the entire farm had been quarantined.
According to Lawal, while samples collected from a poultry farm in Badore were also confirmed positive, a zoological park based in Victoria Garden City, Lagos was being investigated.
He added that in order to contain the spread of the infection, the government had embarked on active diseases search by surveillance agents, bio-security monitoring and sensitisation in poultry farms and markets, disinfection of poultry markets and decontamination of affected farms and sensitisation of poultry farmers and traders on insurance policy issues.
Nigeria first experienced bird flu in 2006 when H5N1 virus entered the country through migratory birds from Asia. In 2007 the virus claimed its first and only human victim, a 22-year-old woman in Lagos, making Nigeria the third African country to have a human case, after Egypt and Djibouti.
H5N1 and H7N9 type of avian influenza affect humans. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the primary risk factor for human infection from the virus appears to be direct or indirect exposure to infected live or dead poultry or contaminated environments, such as live bird markets. WHO added that controlling circulation of the H5N1 virus in poultries is essential to reducing the risk of human infection. Although there is no evidence to suggest that the H5N1 virus can be transmitted to humans through properly prepared poultry or eggs, a few H5N1 human cases have been linked to consumption of dishes made of raw, contaminated poultry blood. However, slaughter, de-feathering, handling carcasses of infected poultry, and preparing poultry for consumption, especially in household settings, are likely to be risk factors for human infection, WHO said.
When The Guardian visited Badore in Etiosa Local Council of Lagos State, it was not possible to locate any of the poultry farms with bird flu in the area as reported in the media. Most of the poultry farms in the area had close down. But some poultry farmers and consumers are worried about the report of bird flu in Nigeria.
Vice Chairman of Lagos State Poultry Association of Nigeria (PAN) and Farm Manager of Akin Sateru Farms , Mr Godwin Egbebe, was skeptical of the story of bird flu.
“I don’t really know where they got the information of bird flu in Badore. What is the name of the farm? How many birds do they have?,” he asked.
He said that when the issue was raised at a seminar he attended recently, he asked for more investigation to be done. “They said they took some birds that died at Onipanu market. They died in large quantities. They now took the birds to a laboratory and they discovered that they have some elements of bird flu.
“The diagnosis was complete. What they now said is that they sent some to Italy. They should have waited for that result to come out from Italy before they can now say that there is bird flu in Nigeria or not. Even before the confirmation of the report from Italy, they already said that there is bird flu in this axis,” Egbebe said.
He however revealed that poultry farmers in the state are on the alert. “Bio-security is our major watchword. We do not allow people that are coming from other farms to just come into our pen houses. We restrict vehicles that are coming from other farms to stay outside the gate. Our farm vehicles that used to deliver goods to other farms we have also restricted them.”
He regretted that one of the major challenges facing poultry farmers in Nigeria is power. “The industry would have been profitable if power is stable and we have raw materials in abundance. It has made the prices of poultry products to be three to four times above the normal prices.”
He bemoaned that majority of the farmers don’t have warehouse to store their materials. “What government ought to do is to help farmers to build silos to store their materials. They can build one at Ibeju-Lekki to service the farmers along that axis.”
Egbebe added that the government’s extension agents don’t go out to look at what is happening to the farmers in their farms.“This farm is over 30 years. We have about 22,000 laying birds. We raised seasonal turkey for Christmas or cockerels for Christmas.”
Another concerned poultry farmer at Oke-Ira Nla, near Badore, a graduate of Animal Science from University of Nigeria, said he heard the news of bird flu on the radio.
“I heard about the bird flu saga on the news. They said there was an outbreak in Badore. For me, I do not allow people to come into my farm. You can only see from outside. I make sure that I clean my farm every day,” he said.
He urged farmers to maintain good sanitation in their farms. “Keep your farms clean and restrict people from coming in. What I run is deep litter and cage systems. I am trying to put bio-security measures in place.”
He said that the government should provide incentives for people who want to go into poultry farming.
“It is capital intensive. If they can just put incentives in place for farmers, even if it is to pay back at a lower rates, it will help people to go into it.”