Another Outbreak? Bird Flu Threatens Liberia


As Liberia and her fellow Ebola-scarred neighbors Sierra Leone and Guinea are poised to celebrate the defeat of the deadly Ebola virus from the Mano River Union by the end of this year, another outbreak has emerged, this time in neighboring Cote d’Ivoire, namely the H5N1 bird flu or avian influenza, according to REUTERS.

Health authorities in Liberia are yet to make official pronouncement about the disease’s possible outbreak, especially along the border with Cote d’Ivoire, but there are fears that the disease might cross over to Liberia.

According to a news reports the H5N1 bird flu has spread to a third location in the neighboring country. The outbreak was discovered on a farm in the village of Modeste, about 15 kilometers (nine miles) east of the commercial capital, Abidjan.

Farm owner Moussa Dicko was quoted as saying that he has lost 27,000 chickens in the outbreak, including about 7,000 slaughtered by veterinary agents (animal doctors).

The H5N1 strain of the virus can be transmitted to humans, though such cases are rare, officials have said.

Jonas Oulai, Deputy Director of animal health at the Ministry of Animals and Fisheries in la Cote d’Ivoire is quoted telling journalists that there was cause for concern about the spread of the virus, which struck in April this year.

“We thought we were able to contain the virus in Bouake [a central town], but we are being overwhelmed,” he said.

Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Niger and Ghana have been hit with the same virus over the last six months, and there is indication that Liberia could also suffer should bird flu cross over to the country.

Avian influenza—known informally as avian flu or bird flu—refers to “influenza caused by viruses adapted to birds.” The type with the greatest risk is highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), according to experts.

“Bird flu” is a phrase similar to “swine flu,” “dog flu,” “horse flu,” or “human flu” in that it refers to an illness caused by any of many different strains of influenza viruses that have adapted to a specific host.

All known viruses that cause influenza in birds belong to the species influenza as a virus. All subtypes (but not all strains of all subtypes) of influenza are adapted to birds, which is why for many purposes, avian flu virus is influenza virus.

Viruses responsible for influenza pandemics are adapted to both humans and birds. Recent influenza research into the genes of the Spanish flu virus shows it to have genes adapted to both birds and humans, with more of its genes from birds than less deadly later pandemic strains.

While its most highly pathogenic strain (H5N1) had been spreading throughout Asia since 2003, avian influenza reached Europe in 2005, and the Middle East, as well as Africa, the following year. On January 22, 2012, China reported its second human death due to bird flu in a month following other fatalities in Vietnam and Cambodia. Companion birds in captivity and parrots are highly unlikely to contract the virus, and there has been no report of a companion bird with avian influenza since 2003.

Pigeons do not contract or spread the virus. 84 percent of affected bird populations are composed of chicken and farm birds, while the 15 percent is made up of wild.


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