Control H5N1 source before it spreads

Too much emphasis is being put on stockpiling antiviral drugs such as Tamiflu, while the battle against avian flu in animals is under-funded, according to head of the Food and Agriculture Organisation’s animal health division, Samuel Jutzi.

Addressing this week’s international avian flu conference in Switzerland, Dr Jutzi called on governments to strengthen their controls and improve communication to attack the disease at source.

By reducing the circulation of the H5N1 virus in animals, governments would help reduce the risk to humans.

“We still have a window of opportunity to stop the disease in animals,” he told the conference.

“The virus has not yet reassorted or mutated. Action is required now; there is no time to lose.

Controlling the virus in animals is the only way by which the likelihood of the bird flu virus acquiring human-to-human transmissibility can be influenced,” said Dr Jutzi.

Delegates heard that, since 1996, more than 150m chickens and ducks have died from the disease or been culled.

It was estimated to have cost affected countries more than $10bn (5.6bn), while the livelihoods of 200m poor small farmers had been hit.

But lobby group Compassion in World Farming urged governments not to overlook the animal welfare implications of widespread culling.

Already the organisation had logged reports of poultry being buried alive in Albania and burned alive in China.