Nigeria tests family for bird flu

Samples taken from a Nigerian family suspected of contracting a fatal bird flu strain have been sent abroad so experts can determine whether the virus has jumped to humans in Africa for the first time, a top health official said.

Two children were reported ill near a farm in the northern town of Jaji, where the deadly H5N1 bird flu strain was detected on a poultry farm on Wednesday, marking its first reported spread into Africa.

A joint team of state and federal officials took samples from the children and their family, and sent them abroad to see if they test positive for the virus, Abdulsalam Nasidi, a federal Health Ministry official said after visiting the family on Sunday.

“Everybody in the family is being tested,” Nasidi said. “We have taken the samples to different places, both in Nigeria and abroad.”

The H5N1 strain has killed at least 88 people, mostly in Asia, since 2003. No human cases have been confirmed in Africa to date.

Nasidi gave no details on the family’s size and declined to say where the tests were sent. He said the children “are in fairly good condition ... but we are still observing them”.

Health officials fear the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu will evolve into a virus that can be transmitted easily between people and become a pandemic. Most human cases of the disease so far have been linked to contact with infected birds.

Federal government and regional health officials said they will start screening people on Monday who have worked on farms hit by bird flu.

Experts from the United States-based Centres for Disease Control and Prevention arrived in Nigeria on Sunday with equipment and protective clothing for 200 Nigerian health officials who will cull birds in the north of the country, Agriculture Minister Adamu Bello said.

They were joined by two regional officials for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, said the FAO chief for Nigeria, Helder Muteia. More experts are expected to arrive in Nigeria over the coming days to draw up a plan of action after discussions with authorities.

Nigerian officials have tried to contain the disease by burning chickens and other birds suspected of being infected across the north.

But authorities have not taken action on international recommendations to shut poultry markets and halt the shipping of domestic birds around the country.

In Kaduna city, prices for chickens had fallen by a third as many people shunned poultry markets, where traders were selling the birds on Saturday in large, round wicker baskets.

“People are not buying, but this is our business,” said chicken seller Adamu Yusuf.

“We are trying to see if we can make some money to meet our needs.”

At Zyil farm in Kano state, farm workers dressed in brown overalls, red gloves and face masks slaughtered and burned over 1 000 chickens on Sunday after a suspected bird flu outbreak there, said farm manager Kadiru Sule. Agriculture Ministry officials supervised the destruction and only people connected to the

operation were allowed to enter the farm.

Bello, the agriculture minister, said affected farms have been ordered quarantined for 12 months.

The virus has been confirmed at a total of five farms in Kaduna, Kano and Plateau states, killing at least 100 000 birds. Twenty-two other farms may also have been infected in Kano and Kaduna, according to the government.

The disease has ravaged poultry stocks across Asia, killing or forcing the slaughter of more than 140-million birds, according to the World Health Organisation. - Sapa-AP



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