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The deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu has been found in two more Nigerian states

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02/09/2006 11:59 AM
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The deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu has been found in two more Nigerian states
The deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu has been found in two more Nigerian states, the Agricultural Ministry said Thursday. The strain has been confirmed at two farms in Kano state and one in adjoining Plateau state, said Tope Ajakaiye, a ministry spokesman. The highly pathogenic strain of avian flu, found in Nigerian chickens, is the first time the strain has been found in Africa, the World Organization for Animal Health and the World Health Organization (WHO) reported on Wednesday.

Africa's first documented case was reported Wednesday in Nigeria's Kaduna state, bringing the total to three states. "The federal government is doing everything to contain the disease within the three centers that have been located," said Ajakaiye in a statement. The office of President Olusegun Obasanjo also confirmed the discovery of the disease. Alex Thiermann, special adviser to the director general of the World Organization for Animal Health -- known as OIE, the initials of its French name -- said the discovery of the disease in one part of Africa does not bode well for the rest of the continent. "We have been saying for a while that were the disease to get to Africa, it's a continent where most countries have very weak veterinary infrastructure," he told CNN. "And we know from our experience in Eastern Europe and in Southeast Asia that the rapidity to which the disease can be fought, and how quickly we can eliminate it ... is very directly related to the quality of the veterinary infrastructures."

Sixteen other countries have reported outbreaks of the H5N1 strain of avian flu in birds. Human cases of the deadly strain have been found in seven of those countries. About half of those infected -- 88 of 165 -- have died, according to the WHO. "It is disappointing that the virus has spread this far," said WHO spokesman Dick Thompson. "This does not change our pandemic alert level. The virus is moving around, and it makes it more difficult to pry it out of the environment. This does not change the overall risk assessment in terms of a pandemic." According to an OIE news release, the first outbreak occurred in a commercial setting in the village of Jaji in the northern state of Kaduna.

Nigerian authorities quarantined the infected birds and began culling them. About 50,000 birds were affected, the organization said. Nigerian Information Minister Frank Nweke Jr. said three farms were quarantined, one each in the states of Kaduna, Kano and Jos and that they could be out of operation for up to a year. He said the government was paying farmers 250 naira ($1.95) for each bird culled to compensate for their loss and to encourage other farmers to report diseased birds. OIE spokeswoman Maria Zampaglione told CNN that the organization would assemble a team of bird flu experts to send to Nigeria by the end of the week and that the government was being helpful in its assistance.

Part of the team's job, she said, will be to determine how the birds came to be infected. Bird flu began ravaging poultry stocks across Asia in 2003, forcing the slaughter of 140 million birds and jumping to humans, killing dozens. It has since spread to Europe and the Middle East. Health officials had feared a deadly bird flu virus could enter impoverished, loosely governed African regions where many people raise chickens at home for personal consumption. Experts are also particularly concerned that H5N1 might mutate into a form spread easily among humans, triggering a pandemic capable of killing millions.