The Poultry Association of Nigeria (PAN), animal scientists and veterinary professionals have called on poultry farmers, livestock breeders and toll feed millers to embrace bio-security, farm hygiene and international best practices to prevent outbreaks of Avian Influenza (bird flu) and its attendant economic losses.
Biosecurity and other safety procedures, they said, would keep capitals and disposable income of commercial poultry farmers, prevent animal-to-human transmission and save the country from panic and cost such outbreaks could bring.
From January to April or thereabouts yearly, wild birds migrate from continents to continents in search of more favourable conditions, including feeds, water and friendly atmospheres. The migration of these wild creatures has been more pronounced in the last one decade, and schematically proven, it has been driven by increasing deforestation, ecosystem damage and unprecedented emerging global warming.
Migratory birds are reservoirs of viruses, including the Avian Influenza, Swine virus and popular Ebola virus.
Nigeria and Africa have suffered immense losses of poultry and other animals to the virus, recording human morbidity and mortality in the wake of almost yearly outbreaks of Avian Influenza, also called bird flu as a result of the infections on farms. Migratory birds are main vectors spreading the virus.
Estimating the economic impact, the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) jointly noted that “Over 100 species of wild migratory birds, particularly ducks, swans, geese and various wading birds, harbour avian influenza (AI) viruses.”
The agencies also explained that “infections are transmitted amongst the wild birds by shedding of the virus and contamination of water,” and that “infection rates depend on time of year, location, the particular bird species and its age.”
A major worry in the last few years is the emergence of a more fatal pathogenic strain of avian influenza virus, Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza of the H5N1 subtype (HPAI H5N1). This strain, according to FAO and IAEA, not only causes disease and death in wild birds and poultry, it can also affect humans.
“Over the past six years HPAI outbreaks have resulted in losses of US$20 billion to the poultry industry through the destruction of 300 million birds.
“Even more serious has been the occurrence of zoonotic HPAI, causing a disease with a high mortality, leading to the death of several hundred people. Similar influenza epidemics in the past have killed millions of people, and the threat of a pandemic disease caused by HPAI makes it potentially one of the most important animal and human health hazards facing mankind today,” the agencies said.
The claimed that estimates of the economic impact of pandemic disease caused by HPAI suggested that it would cost the global economy US$2 trillion, three per cent of the world’s Gross Domestic Product. Calls to Nigerian farmers to protect farms, themselve.
Responding to The Guardian’s question on how best to prevent outbreaks of the virus and associated losses, Mrs Victoria Adetunji (Ph.D), a professor of veterinary public health, University of Ibadan, harped repeatedly on strict biosecurity, which she describes as “The general cleanliness and hygienic conditions of poultry farm,” insisting it “must be maintained and biosecurity measures should be strictly adopted.”
Prof. Adetunji said interaction between poultry and other birds should be reduced, especially with wild and free flying birds and access of rodents, adding that contact with other wild animals should be avoided. Entry of visitors, trucks, equipment and every other material that has been in contact with the outside of the farm should be restricted, especially in times of outbreaks.
She also warned farmers against raising birds of different ages together, saying, “Do not raise birds of different ages together so you don’t introduce a diseased animal along production line. The raising of similar age poultry flocks helps in efficient management of poultry flocks regarding arrival and sale of poultry birds at the same time and giving maximum down time (time between successive flocks) for proper disinfection and cleanliness of farm.
Despite the Federal Government’s stance, she suggested vaccination, saying, the “Use of vaccines against Avian influenza (virus responsible for bird flu) can decrease viral excretion rates and transmission dynamics, can increase infection resistance and reduce clinical symptoms.”
Other measures she advocated include minimizing risk of exposure to bird flu virus by reducing direct contact with free-range domestic, wild, dead or live birds during an outbreak; washing of hands properly with soap after dealing with the poultry and poultry products, like, meat or eggs; disinfection visitors and vehicles and reporting any suspicion immediately.
Dr Adebiyi Oluwafemi, Department of Animal Science, University of Ibadan, said to prevent bird flu, poultry farm staffers must be trained first on what is bird flu, its mode of transmission and the economic effects on farmers, the staff themselves (If the farm is closed down because of burden flue, the staffs will lose their jobs and it will be difficult to care for their families) and the country.
“The farmers must maintain highest level of hygiene. All farm equipment must always be washed and disinfected very regularly. Conscious efforts must be made in areas where farmers make their feeds from toll millers. Adequate screening must be made on where on the level of the toll millers to prevent being a spot for the spread since different farms make feeds from them,” he said.
Pitching his tent with Prof. Adetunji, Dr Adebiyi said farmers need to ensure that the biosecurity of the farm is strictly adhered to, saying, “Do not allow strangers into your farm and if there’s going to be such, changing of clothing to farm wears must not be compromised, apart from the regular foot dip and disinfection.”
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) also believes the introduction and enforcement of biosecurity measures is the most effective way to prevent the introduction of the highly pathogenic influenza virus A (H5N8).
A set of biosecurity measures, it said, that could be implemented in different areas of a farm that are classified as high or low risk include “preventing contact between wild birds and poultry, indoor housing of birds, as well as keeping geese and ducks separate from other poultry.”
The development of biosecurity guidance tailored to the need of individual farms is recommended by the EFSA and should preferably be carried out before outbreaks.
The European body also recommended that when wild birds are detected with the virus, poultry should be monitored in geographical areas defined by the habitat and flight distance of the affected birds.
Furthermore, the EFSA believes that the relevant authorities should raise awareness among farmers of biosecurity measures in such areas.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) says Avian Influenza, swine and other zoonotic viruses like A(H5N1), A(H7N9), and A(H9N2) and swine influenza virus subtypes A(H1N1), A(H1N2) and A(H3N2) can infect humans and can be fatal.
It notes that “Human infections are primarily acquired through direct contact with infected animals or contaminated environments, these viruses have not acquired the ability of sustained transmission among humans.”
The Poultry Association of Nigeria (PAN) also called on farmers, breeders and toll feed millers to put adequate measures in place and observe utmost hygiene to prevent such outbreaks in the country.
The national president of PAN, Mr Ezekiel Ibrahim Mam, said farmers would do well to prevent, rather than treat birds after infections.
Prevention with biosecurity and other measures, he added, is not only cheaper but also advantageous, capital-saving and more sustainable. Economic losses and subsequent interruption of flow of income to farmers, breeders and millers, as well as other players in the value chain could be devastating, traumatic and destructive.
Hatcheries, egg-producing farmers, breeders and chicken meat producers, among others, he said, should go the extra mile to prevent outbreaks.
The PAN called the government to begin awareness through the mass media and ministries of agriculture rather than spending resources on bird destruction, evacuation and disinfection after outbreaks.