Poison, not flu, killed Zambian birds

The health experts have instead indicated that the affected birds died from poison.

Reacting to rising concerns that Zambia has been hit by suspected bird flu, Veterinary and livestock deputy director, Moto Mangani, said preliminary screening test results carried out on the affected birds that died on June 19 in Livingstone indicate that the birds died from poisonous substances and not avian influenza as speculated.

Moto said samples analysed by the Veterinary department, a branch of the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, indicate no sign of bird flu.

“The samples only indicated traces of poisonous substances and not bird flu,” he said.

The department was undertaking further tests at the Central Veterinary Research Institute in Lusaka to further establish the cause of the deaths of two other birds in Lusaka on June 22.

“Parallel samples were sent to South Africa’s Ondestepoort Veterinary Institute, a regional referral laboratory for further investigations. However the epidemiological information and preliminary test results indicate that the birds that have died have been from other causes than avian influenza,”said Moto, adding; “There is higher mortality rate in birds during this period of the year because of adverse weather conditions.”

The United Nations recently advised the Zambian government and the public not to panic over suspected bird flu outbreak without verification.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said there was no need to despair over the reports about a bird flu outbreak in the tourist capital after some chickens were found dead in some people’s backyards and were later eaten resulting in the affected people being tested against the avian flu disease.

WHO country representative Stella Anyangwe said it was normal for birds to die of flu because there were several other seasonal diseases that affected birds.

She said it would be worrying if the disease suspected to have killed the birds was proved to be the H5 N1 virus that was easily transmitted to humans.

“There is no need to despair until the health authorities ascertain if it is the deadly flu that can be transmitted to humans,” she said.

FAO country representative, Dong Quingson, in a seperate interview said there was no need to panic because the UN agency in collaboration with the ministry of agriculture had already collected samples from the birds to conduct tests.

Quingsong whose agency recently donated US$89,000 worth of surveillance equipment against avian flu said there were about 120 viruses that caused diseases among birds and only the H5N1 was considered the most dangerous because of its effect on humans.

“There is no need to panic. We have collected samples and we are waiting for the test results and we hope to put in place preventive measures if need arises,” he said.

The Zambian government said it was aware of the suspected bird flu reports and was working frantically to establish the cause of death of the birds.

“We are investigating the matter but so far there has been no confirmation of an outbreak,” Simon Miti, permanent secretary at the health ministry, told local media.

He conceded several residents of Livingstone had been sent to hospital for tests after they cooked and ate the dead birds.

However, the outbreak in Zambia if proven might be costly for the country that lacks technical expertise, personnel and funds to tackle a possible outbreak of H5N1 bird flu despite recent donations from the European Union and FAO.

The European Union recently contributed $200,000, while the FAO donated US$89,000 worth of test kits and other equipment to counter the deadly virus.

Despite the donations, Zambia’s preparedness to counter the avian influenza is below expectations.

Richard Chizyuka, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, said the lack of resources had stalled many of the government’s prevention initiatives ‘ despite a national response plan and a budget.

He said the protective gear donated by FAO would help step up active surveillance and counter any possible symptoms or outbreaks.

Zambian officials have time and again underlined a lack of capacity to handle a possible outbreak.

Earlier this year, the Zambian cabinet approved a $4.8 million budget to tackle avian influenza, with the emphasis on prevention.

The UN food agency, in making the donation said it had been prompted to intervene because the country’s response, hampered by a lack of resources, had been ineffective.

“The onus is on the government to source more funds and put measures in place to ensure the disease is prevented effectively.”

Migratory birds are believed to be the main vector in infecting domestic and commercial poultry with the H5N1 virus, putting Zambia at high risk of avian flu because it lies in the path of a major migratory bird flyway.

The Lochinvar wetland, a World Heritage site on the Kafue river flood plain between the southern city of Livingstone and the capital, Lusaka, is an important nesting site for migratory birds.

In recent months five African countries have confirmed the presence of the H5N1 virus in poultry. The flu has claimed 52 lives since the beginning of this year.

According to the World Health Organisation, 26 deaths have been recorded in Indonesia alone.

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