Panic after suspected bird flu in Livingstone
By Monday veterinary officers had recorded over 40 birds that were found dead near Zambia’s border with Zimbabwe not far from the Victoria Falls, the main tourist attraction.
It was not clear yet whether the birds were dying from the dreaded H5N1 type of bird influenza that has not only claimed thousands of birds across the world but also some human lives.
Samples of the dead birds have been taken to Lusaka for tests in order to verify whether the birds are dying from other causes or the flu that first broke-out in Asia early this year.
A veterinary officer in Livingstone Dr Jack Shoko said people should not panic until the results were determined in Lusaka because the cause could be different.
He, however, warned people against eating the dead birds as it could endanger their lives.
“Results have been sent to Lusaka and at this stage we cannot tell whether it is poisoning or the bird flu. We want to appeal to people not to eat the birds, it is not safe,” said Shoko in Livingstone.
Unconfirmed reports coming out of Livingstone say that some boys were at the weekend found roasting birds they could have picked. Previously no cases have been linked to the consumption of properly cooked poultry meat or eggs, even in households where the disease was known to be present in flocks.
Recently former Zambia’s Health minister Sylvia Masebo said the country needed not less than US$2 million to guard against the disease that she described being as menace as the HIV/AIDS pandemic that has claimed millions of lives.
The occurrence of the disease in India, reported on 18 February, is part of a recent pattern of rapid geographical spread of the virus in wild and domestic birds.
India is one of 13 countries that reported the first cases of H5N1 infection in birds since the beginning of February.
The 13 countries, listed in order of reporting, are Iraq, Nigeria, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, Slovenia, Iran, Austria, Germany, Egypt, India and France.
Recently there were reports of some birds being found dead in some east African countries.
However it has been established that the winter migratory birds are now heading back to Europe from Africa without any major cases being recorded in the Great Lift Valley areas where they have been.
There are still some assumptions that bird flu carrying birds that had attempted to make it across large expanses of water between Europe and Africa could have died during the long flights.
Now health and trade experts are looking at trade as another way in which the disease can be transported through the export and import of livestock products.
For human health, experience elsewhere over the past two years has shown that the greatest risk of cases arises when the virus becomes established in small backyard flocks, which allow continuing opportunities for close human contact, exposures, and infections to occur.
No human deaths have been recorded in Africa as a direct result of bird flu.
The World Health Organsation (WHO) has called for calm as laboratory tests are being conducted to determine the cause of deaths among wild birds in Livingtone.
Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation this week reported that WHO Country Representative, Stella Anyangwe said it would be premature for anyone to speculate that the Birds are dying from Bird flu.
Dr. Anyangwe said birds have in most instances died due to change in weather pattern or other infections.
She said WHO is ready to help in the event of an outbreak of bird flu.
Anyangwe told ZNBC that the H5N1 virus is source of concern because it can be transmitted from birds to human beings.
Poultry Association of Zambia (PAZ) executive manager Mathews Ngosa said the association was keenly awaiting the results from the laboratory which were yet to be released.
“We cannot say at the moment until they give us the results, otherwise for now there is no need to worry. The birds could be dying of poisoning or any other disease,” said Ngosa.
PAZ exports 10 per cent of its annual production of about 28 million day old chicks. Ngosa said poultry production growth in Zambia was at 40 per cent and could have risen to 100,000 per cent this year had it not been for the fear of bird flu among poultry farmers in the country.
Zambia has an importation ban on any poultry and poultry products while its neighbours especially Tanzania and DRC are now reluctant to import from Zambia. (See comment on page …)