INTERVIEW-U.S. bird flu virus seen under control within four months – OIE – RTRS
26-May-2015 07:25:07 AM
* World Animal Health body OIE expects bird flu to wane
* Drop linked to stricter control at farms, warm weather
* OIE warns U.S. bird flu viruses could spread to Mexico
* U.S. poultry toll seen rising to 50 million
By Sybille de La Hamaide
PARIS, May 26 (Reuters) – An epidemic of bird flu that has
devastated U.S. poultry flocks this year is likely to be under
control within four months as the United States steps up
measures to contain the virus, the head of the World
Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) said.
However, there is a high risk that strains of the virus will
continue to spread within the American continent, mainly Mexico,
which should prompt farmers and authorities to boost biosecurity
measures, OIE Director General Bernard Vallat told Reuters.
The U.S. poultry industry is confronting its biggest
outbreak of bird flu on record, which has led to the death or
culling of 40 million birds after confirmation on commercial
farms and backyard flocks in 16 U.S. states and in Canada.
The disease, which manifests in several physical symptoms
and a sharp drop in egg production, has led to a sharp rise in
egg prices, forcing food producers to look for alternatives.
“I think it cannot worsen in the United States,” Vallat
said. “Given the scale of the damage and the pressure on farmers
I believe they will quickly protect themselves more efficiently.
There are huge economic stakes here.”
Although the U.S. bird flu toll could reach 50 million, the
infection rate has reached a top, Vallat said, predicting the
end of the epidemic in September, with possible sporadic cases
every few weeks.
That compared with 34 outbreaks of the highly infectious
H5N2 and H5N8 strains on farms or backyards between April 27 and
May 8, leading to the death or culling of 9.9 million birds,
U.S. government reports posted on the OIE website showed.
Summer conditions should also help as the virus weakens in
warm weather, reducing transmission risks.
The bird flu epidemic in the United States was particularly
severe because farmers were not prepared, and because of the
size of its farms, Vallat said.
“U.S. farms are more concentrated than in other countries
such as in the European Union. Of course this has an impact on
the number of birds infected or killed,” he said. “When a virus
enters a farm like that, it’s a real disaster.”
While the U.S. threat is seen fading, Vallat highlighted
risks to other countries in the region, particularly Mexico, and
urged a stronger approach to biosecurity measures.
These include early detection and surveillance but also
simple steps such as protecting feed from wild birds, and
disinfecting everything entering farms including people, trucks
and veterinarians, he said.
Outbreaks of a different strain of bird flu virus, H7N3, in
Mexico in 2012 and 2013 led to the death of nearly 20 million
birds over two years, data showed.