The dry season is here again. Outbreaks of avian influenza, popularly called bird flu, always trail the outset of the season. Annually, the deadly strain of the virus, H5N1, has repeatedly re-emerges in Europe, America, Asia and Africa.
It is safer, more economically better and more desirable to take precautions to prevent the outbreak of the avian flu than treatment. Compensations from the government, if any, may not be enough to mitigate the effects. Outbreaks of bird flu viral infections on poultry farms always leave a gory story in their wake, for many farmers have not been able to recover from the losses of their investments.
Understanding the signs and symptoms of the viral infection in birds is important to avoid transmission to humans. Some of the strains are zoonotic, that is, could be transmitted to humans. Since the first human case in 1997, H5N1 has killed nearly 60% of the people who have been infected.
Symptoms in chickens include sudden death without any signs; lack of coordination; purple discoloration of the wattles, combs, and legs; soft-shelled or misshapen eggs; lack of energy and appetite; diarrhea; swelling of the head, eyelids, comb, wattles and hocks; nasal discharges; decreased egg production; coughing and sneezing.
Migrating birds, especially ducks and eaglets, are the main agents of the intercontinental spread of bird flu viruses.However, animal scientists, poultry experts and financial professionals have suggested that farmers should take the following steps to protect their farms against bird flu viruses.
Maintaining bio-security procedures on farms
OYO State branch chairman of the Poultry Association of Nigeria (PAN), Mr Banji Akanji, said bio-security lapses on farm are major challenges in preventing outbreaks. He advised that poultry farmers should improve on their bio-security practices. These include clean and hygienic farm environments.
The second point, he said, is that “the migrating birds from Asia have left their regions since October, coming to Africa. So, farmers should be watchful. Eaglets are also agents of bird flu. They should prevent wild birds on their farms.”
Akanji, however, added that some poultry diseases also have symptoms that appear like bird flu, “and there is no laboratory to confirm bird flu here, except in Vom, Jos, in Plateau State. If it is controversial, samples are sent to Italy for confirmation.”
Joan Jeffrey, Extension Poultry Veterinarian at University of California, the United States of America (U.S.A.) defined bio-security as a practice designed to prevent the spread of diseases onto a farm.
This, he added, is accomplished by maintaining the farm in such a way that there is minimal traffic of biological organisms such viruses, bacteria, rodents across its borders.
To him, bio-security is the cheapest, most effective means of disease control available. No disease prevention program will work without it. Bio-security has three major components: sanitation, traffic control and isolation
POULTRY farmers should maintain utmost hygiene not only in the pen and farm premises, but also of materials, tools and crates used on the farm. Feeds should be milled in standard feed-mills, where good and bio-secured feed ingredients are used.
Feeders, drinkers and crates should regularly be disinfected, and water given to the birds should pure and potable. In facts, the farmer should be able to drink out of the source of the water. Sanitation on the farm also includes disposing dead birds properly and quickly, disinfection of staff before and after entering the pen and using of clean and disinfected farm wears.
Dr Kamarudeen Tiamiyu, a researcher and poultry breeding specialist at the Institute of Agricultural Research and Training (IAR&T), advised that poultry farms doing egg production should use plastic crates so that they can frequently disinfect such crates. Egg dealers moving crates from farm to farm, Dr Tiamiyu added, are mostly responsible for fast spread, and such means should be guarded against by using crates that could be sterilised before use.He suggested that a pit with disinfectant and water should be constructed at the entrance of the farm and each pen house.
TRAFFIC control implies that vehicles, humans and materials entering the farms must be restricted. Workers and poultry farm owners should not allow visitors, especially those who work on or do pay visits to other poultry farms, hunters and egg dealers a free access to the pen.Vehicles conveying birds, feeds and crates in and out of the farm premises should be disinfected while entering and leaving the farm gate.
The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) says everyone coming from a place where there are sick poultry can carry the virus on their clothes, their sandals; family members coming back from neighbours, from the local market and from the paddy fields and “middlemen coming to buy or to sell poultry but also pigs, cattle or other agriculture products” are potential agents of viral transmission, and therefore, should be controlled.
FARMERS are also advised to isolate all sick birds instantaneously. Whether it is bird flu or other infections, this is a responsive way of protecting other birds from getting infected.
Using the eclectic approach
SOME specialists have also suggested combined steps covering not only prevention of outbreaks but also recovery of capital invested on the birds if there are eventual outbreaks.
Head of Agricultural and Micro Insurance Department of Leadway Assurance Company, Mr Ayo Fatona, explained to The Guardian that apart from the basic poultry insurance that covers mortalities of birds resulting from outbreaks of common diseases and other natural occurrences, the policy could be extended to bird flu outbreaks with the payment of additional premium rate of 1.5 per cent of the value of insured birds.
The basic cover, he said, requires the farmer to pay 2.5 per cent premium, and the bird flu extension would make the total premium 4.0 per cent of the value of birds insured. The insurance protection, combined with bio-security and other measures like the government compensation for small-scale farmers, would absolutely protect the investments of poultry farmers in Nigeria against consequences of bird flu infections.
What to do on suspicion of bird flu
On what to do if bird flu is suspected, Akanji said farmers should report to PAN. Then, PAN would report the case to the ministry of agriculture at the state level, while the ministry would report to the special adviser to the governor, and the governor would report to the federal government.
“No farmer should keep information on suspicion of bird flu,” Akanji warned.In summary, FAO says bio-security is common sense; may not cost too much money and its principles can be applied in both large-scale animal production and backyard or small-scale animal production units.