Poultry Bird Flu, Nigeria was the first African country to experience a known outbreak of bird flu in 2006 which could not be fully contained until 2008. H5N1, popularly known as bird flu is the most infectious and dangerous strain of avian influenza virus.
The virus which emerged from the Asian continent in the 1980s is not easily transmissible to humans, however, several hundred humans have died during the outbreaks.
By implication, the occurrence of bird flu in the country has negative consequences on the economy, causing decline in egg supply and taking non-compensated farmers out of business.
Bird flu has been prevalent around this time of the year which is why timely bio-safety and other preventive measures need to be employed by owners of poultry farms to avert the epidemic and the accompanying huge financial losses.
Timeline of poultry bird flu outbreaks in Nigeria.
In January 2015, over 11 states reported cases of the H5N1 strain where about 1.6 million birds were depopulated as a result of the outbreak.
Similarly, in September of the same year, a new outbreak of avian influenza was reported in 85 local government areas of 21 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).Then by January 2016, Ebonyi state recorded its first case of avian influenza of the H5N1 strain, and that same month, two million birds were depopulated across the country. As at February 2016, over 90, 000 chickens died from bird flu H5N1 strain, hitting backyard holdings and commercial farms of both broilers and eggs.
By April of same year, the Plateau State government had closed down 62 poultry farms and destroyed more than 190,000 birds affected by bird flu across the state.
However, none of the 130 farmers who were hit both in 2015 and 2016 were compensated as at August 2016.
In December 2016, another outbreak of avian influenza was reported in Kano State, and for the first time, Nigeria reported a case of the highly pathogenic H5N8 avian influenza strain in a collection of guinea fowls, turkeys and pigeons in Danbare, in Kano State. This was the second incidence in Africa, the first being wild waterfowl in Tunisia.
Coming down to January 2017, the new strain of the avian influenza virus had spread to 26 states and the Federal Capital Territory, with over 3.5 million birds affected. The new strain is believed to be very pathogenic and more devastating to poultry species.
In February of last year, avian influenza virus resurfaced in Plateau State, killing more than 11,000 birds within one week, and by June, the outbreak had spread to the FCT and seven states of the country. It affected 123 LGAs and 800 poultry farms across the country.
What poultry farmers need to do…
On what poultry farmers need to do, a veterinary consultant and Chairman of the Nigerian Veterinary Medical Association, FCT chapter.
Bala Mohammed noted that bird flu is a highly pathogenic disease caused by the avian influenza virus which causes massive morbidity and mortality of poultry. “When I say pathogenic, it means they can cause very serious disease and the moment they do that, a farm said to be very active within few hours or days you may have suffered mortality, Water birds like ducks, even ostrich are highly susceptible and some of them may not show the signs but they become carriers and they could infect other highly susceptible groups of poultry birds like the chickens and guinea fowls,” he explained.
He identified lack of proper husbandry management techniques as one of the major reasons for the reoccurrence of the outbreak in the country.
Mohammed said that the popular belief that bird flu happens during the harmattan season is not all true, although the season comes with a lot of diseases because most of the disease carriers which are wild birds leave Europe for a warmer climate.
He stated that as a result of the migration of these migratory birds to Tropical Africa, the wild birds infect domesticated birds with the virus.
The veterinary expert pointed out that the H5N1 is a highly pathogenic and deadly strain of the avian influenza virus, although he said there are other strains which are not as fatal as the aforementioned. “What is been diagnosed and we know is the H5N1 which is highly pathogenic, we have some other ones that are not pathogenic they don’t show in the birds,” he said.
Mohammed stated that bird flu could be transmitted through different means, noting that the biosafety measures could be categorized into three.
“Basically the transmission may be mechanical, where you have somebody stepping on the faeces of another bird to another bird, so it can be carried by humans working on an infected poultry.
Another one is that the migratory birds could just be passing and they defecate. That could also cause it. If you also have birds infected that are not properly disposed of, that could also cause infection of some other birds,” he said. The consultant affirmed that raising the level of biosecurity in poultry farms is the best way an outbreak could be averted or minimised to the barest minimum.
On biosecurity measure to employ, Mohammed advised poultry farmers to keep visitors away from the birds at all times and only authorised workers should be allowed to have contact with them.
In his words, “Physically you need to keep people away from your farm, your workers need to face only your farm and your birds not to go others farms and come back and also you need not to re-use crates, some people go to other farms after collecting eggs they bring it.
“Same thing is also applicable to feed sack which could also be a source of contamination. We have people who recycle the sacks after feeding, they go to some other places pack some saw dust bring the same sacks into your farm.”
Secondly, Mohammed pointed out on the need for workers to wash and disinfect hands before touching or feeding the birds, clean up poultry houses and also the need to fumigate the saw dust which the birds use as bedding material.
“Reduce the traffic coming into your farm, to avoid (poultry bird flu) visitors should not be allowed and for those who come to buy eggs or chicken they must stay far away then you bring out the eggs or chicken at a designated place which should be fumigated at every two to three hours,” he advised.
The consultant further explained that poor environmental health and physiological status of the birds also contribute to weak immunity and susceptibility to the disease.
He advised poultry farmers to consider conditions like appropriate feeding and nutrition and adequate vaccination against diseases like the new castle disease so as to have healthier and stronger birds.
He affirmed that the government of Nigeria does not allow any form of vaccination for poultry birds against the avian influenza virus. “Vaccination against bird flu is not allowed in Nigeria. What we understand from the epidemiology of the disease is that we have so many strains of bird flu and the vaccine is one of the most expensive and tedious one to produce. Now if you do it half way, you therefore have reintroduced another different strain because you have not been able to meet up with the regular vaccination schedule, it is not like other vaccines that you do, maybe, once every two months,” he said.
He explained that the vaccine is not like other vaccines that could be put in their drinking water but needs to be physically injected into the birds, adding that farmers may not be able to give the right dose. He added further that credible veterinary clinics and outlets should be contacted for medicines and disinfectants for traceability purposes.
The consultant commended efforts of government to curb bird flu epidemic in the last 12 years. He, however, appealed for more public awareness. Mohammed also appealed to poultry farmers to report cases of bird flu as soon as they are identified, noting the disease is highly fatal and birds could die within eight hours of being infected.
He added that mortality could be up to 80% and that the symptoms are usually post-mortem. He, however, stated that bird flu can be suspected when the birds have very poor appetite, look sleepy and when they bleed on their legs.
Mohammed affirmed that consuming infected eggs or chicken or getting in touch with blood of an infected chicken is a major source of concern particularly if they are not well processed so as not to have infection of human population. (Poultry Bird Flu)