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Bird Flu Experts Arrive in Nigeria After Outbreak
Filed at 5:27 a.m. ET
KADUNA, Nigeria (Reuters) - International experts arrived in three Nigerian states hit by the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus on Thursday as authorities tried to persuade people to avoid contact with sick fowl.
Thousands of chickens have died in northern Nigeria over the past few weeks and the Paris-based World Organization for Animal Health confirmed on Wednesday that the deadly H5N1 strain had arrived in Africa for the first time.
``(U.N.) Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) inspectors are already in Kaduna, Kano and Jos, `` said an official of the World Health Organization in the Nigerian capital Abuja.
``They want to trace people who have had contact with sick chickens and send out simple messages that there should be no human-bird contact,'' she added.
The outbreak could have devastating consequences in Nigeria, where millions keep chickens in their backyards.
Nigerian authorities say they have so far received no reports of human infection with H5N1, which has killed at least 88 people in seven countries since it re-emerged in late 2003.
But it would be difficult for authorities to know that for sure because mortality rates in Nigeria are among the highest in the world and the dead are often buried without any medical checks.
Scientists fear that H5N1 could mutate into a form that passes easily from person to person, sparking a human influenza pandemic in which millions could die.
So far, victims have contracted the disease through close contact with infected birds.
The chicken that tested positive for H5N1 was taken from a commercial battery farm in the north of Kaduna state.
In the Kaduna state capital on Thursday, market traders said there were fewer commercial chickens available, but that domestically-reared birds were fetching a premium.
``In these broiler chicken farms someone can keep 20,000-30,000 chickens so it's not safe, but in the village they keep only four or five so it's safer,'' said Adamu Usman.
The Nigerian government said it would cull all chickens suspected to be infected with bird flu, compensate farmers and quarantine all suspect farms.
Bird flu has been moving westwards from east Asia and people have died during recent outbreaks in Turkey and Iraq. It was not immediately clear how it reached west Africa, but experts said the priority was to contain it before it could spread any further.

Fears Grow After Bird Flu Moves Into Africa
February 9, 2006
Filed at 2:02 p.m. ET
JAJI, Nigeria (Reuters) - The unexplained deaths of large numbers of birds in northern Nigeria fanned fears on Thursday that the H5N1 avian flu virus was spreading rapidly after it was detected in Africa for the first time.
Bird flu has killed at least 88 people since it reemerged in late 2003, most of the victims in east Asia. Indonesia said on Thursday that two women in their 20s had tested positive for the virus and were being treated at a specialist Jakarta hospital.
The virus has been spreading steadily westwards, killing four children in an outbreak in eastern Turkey last month and also claiming the life of a teenager in war-ravaged Iraq.
Greece said it had found an H5 bird flu virus in three swans and has sent samples to Britain to find out if it is the deadly H5N1 strain. If so, it would be the first confirmed case of H5N1 in wild birds in a European Union member state.
The World Health Organization expressed concern over the arrival of the virus in the west African state of Nigeria, Africa's most populous country.
Many observers say that African countries lack the health and disease control systems to contain the virus.
``Experience in several other countries has shown how quickly the H5N1 virus can spread and become firmly established in poultry,'' the WHO said in a statement.
Victims contract the virus through close contact with infected poultry.
But scientists fear that H5N1 could mutate into a form that passes easily from person to person, sparking a human influenza pandemic in which millions could die.
The unexplained poultry deaths in northern Nigeria raise the possibility that the virus has already spread from four big commercial farms to small farms and even households, posing a greater threat to human health.
``We are afraid that what happened at Sambawa Farms will happen here too. That's why we went to the vet to get medicine,'' said farmer Mohammed Sanusi, who is treating his birds with medicine for intestinal infections, not bird flu.
The Agriculture Ministry said 45,000 chickens had died at Sambawa Farms in Kaduna state, and confirmed cases of H5N1 had also been found at two farms in the neighbouring Kano state and at one farm in Plateau state, which also borders Kaduna.
Nigerian authorities, backed by the WHO and UNICEF, plan to use a polio immunisation campaign this weekend to spread the word on bird flu.
``We are planning to tap into the polio network to pass on public education measures about bird flu,'' WHO spokeswoman Maria Cheng said.
``It's a great opportunity for us to educate parents about prevention and the kinds of risks they should keep their children from,'' she added.
The virus has been found in parts of eastern Europe and officials are concerned it could spread further west as migratory birds return in the coming months.
Greece's neighbor Bulgaria has also sent samples to Britain for testing after finding H5 in dead swans. A series of H5N1 outbreaks have already been confirmed in birds in Romania which shares a border with Bulgaria.
The Dutch Farm Ministry said on Thursday it would order poultry producers to keep birds indoors from next month to prevent the threat of infection from migratory birds.
Germany has announced similar measures, while the European Commission is considering funding emergency short-term poultry vaccination.
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