Poultry Flu - common sense begins to appear
23 February 2006

THE ECONOMIST: Feb 23rd 2006

  • "Avian influenza is spreading to many new countries. But migrating wild birds may not be the only culprits."

  • "In the face of the relentless march of the H5N1 virus around the world, fatalism is not an appropriate response. Better to look at exactly what is going on."

  • "In Nigeria, Egypt and India, the virus has been discovered to be widely distributed across poultry flocks."

  • "A research paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, published online on February 10th, shows that the H5N1 virus has persisted in its birthplace, southern China, for almost ten years and has been introduced into Vietnam on at least three occasions, and to Indonesia. The authors suggest that such transmissions are perpetuated mainly by the movement of poultry and poultry products, rather than by migrating birds."

  • "This is significant because it strongly supports bird conservationists, who have been arguing that most outbreaks in South-East Asia can be linked to movements of poultry and poultry products, or infected material from poultry farms, such as mud on vehicles or people's shoes. Conservationists also argue that live animal markets have played an important role in the H5N1's spread. Such markets were the source of the first known outbreak in Hong Kong in 1997 when 20% of the chickens in live poultry markets were infected."

  • "In Nigeria, there is the suggestion that it was trade, and not migratory birds, that caused the outbreak. For one thing, the infection was first detected in a commercial farm with 46,000 poultry and not among backyard flocks which represent 60% of the country's poultry production-and which would be expected to have greater contact with wild birds.

    The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates Nigeria imports around 1.2m day-old chicks every year. Further, there are rumours that many of these chicks are still arriving from countries with domestic H5N1 infections, such as China and Turkey."

  • "Dick Thompson, of the World Health Organisation, responded to a report that Nigerians had been seen retrieving dead chickens from a pit of culled birds by saying it was a "really scary activity and something not been seen before".

  • "Infection across Africa would increase the likelihood that the virus will mutate to become transmissible between humans. But there is another vital dimension: the loss of farm income and of a vital source of protein could also be devastating for Africa. That ought to be food for thought for Europeans worried about a few dead swans."