Investment in knowledge, strengthening responsibilities and contingency planning are seen as essential tools in the prevention of the spread of avian flu.

Speaking at a meeting of the International Egg Commission, Ilaria Capua of the OIE/FAO, Italy, stressed that it was a disease of global relevance, now endemic in many parts of the world and is capable of infecting 50 species of birds and 10 species of mammals.

One key tool is vaccination. The use of vaccination can increase resistance of birds, but like all vaccines may not prevent infection. There is not one animal vaccine that generates sterile immunity, she said.

Vaccination is a valid tool, but must be monitored properly, infected birds need to be put under restriction and then managed. If you implement a vaccination programme and follow it with monitoring, this will result in its eradication, she added.

Dr Capua also said that all vaccination should enable the DIVA Strategy, which allows vaccinated birds to be differentiated from those infected with the virus, so that any infection is not hidden.

The use of vaccination will increase resistance to field challenge and reduce shedding levels, the amount of the virus shed in the environment is greatly reduced, she added.

The current EU directive foresees both emergency and preventative vaccination and the establishment of vaccine banks. However, vaccinations in Europe must encompass the DIVA strategy, she said.

Emergency vaccination is a short-term measure and preventive vaccination is long term. “But you have to monitor vaccinations and make sure that it is working,” she explained.

“We have gone to major effort to prevent, detect and contain avian flu particularly H5N1. Measures taken have so far been successful and have reduced the impact of the disease on animal and public health,” she added.

But it is crucial that the industry understands that biosecurity continues to be extremely important. It needs to implement routine monitoring programmes for early detection and customer confidence, said Dr Capua.