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Animal Health Experts Hold Discussions over Strategies to Fight Bird Flu

Animal health experts and scientists, who gathered in Bangkok for an emergency regional meeting on avian influenza control, went into closed-door discussions Friday over strategies to fight the epidemic, including vaccination of birds.

Thanks to two months of control measures, the number of infected countries has not increased since the beginning of February. However, the situation of the highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 is still not under control, said the Asia-Pacific regional office of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The warning came amid reports from Japan that five chickens tested positive for bird flu at a local farm in Kyodo prefecture, western Japan on Friday.

Dr. Samuel Jutzi, director of FAO's Animal Production and Health Division, told Xinhua that the case is yet to be confirmed.

He said new outbreaks might be attributed to the risks posed by uncontrolled movements, smuggled live poultry, and by migratory birds, particularly waterfowl.

Continued vigilance is essential to prevent further flare-ups and to eradicate the epidemic. Early diagnosis and rapid reaction can curb new outbreaks, said the UN agency, which co-sponsored the three-day meeting with the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).

Officials in Asian countries should continue to closely monitor and where appropriate, to restrict the movement of poultry from infected areas. Humans working in contact with infected poultry should be appropriately protected and monitored, said the FAO.

Public loss of confidence in the safety of poultry meat and eggs has wreaked economic havoc on farmers, despite the fact that properly cooked food is not a vector for the spread of avian influenza.

According to Dr. Bernard Vallat, director-general of OIE, laboratory analysis of the avian influenza virus taken from the latest outbreak of bird flu in the US state of Texas showed no link to the current avian flu epidemic in Asia.

The American virus is type H5N2, and while the investigation is continuing, there is no known connection to any previous avian influenza outbreaks in North America, he added.

Mexico was hit by an outbreak of H5N2 virus in 1995.

The FAO on Wednesday listed Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam as countries affected by the highly pathogenic H5N1 virus. A less virulent virus was reported in Pakistan. All of the nine countries sent their representatives to the meeting.

(Xinhua News Agency February 27, 2003)

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