WASHINGTON, D.C., and ROME -- The outbreak of the deadly Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza virus (H5N1) in Nigeria confirms the fears expressed by FAO for quite some time that African countries are facing a high risk of becoming infected by the virus, FAO said today.



"The outbreak in Kaduna state in Northern Nigeria proves that no country is risk-free and that we are facing a serious international crisis," said Samuel Jutzi, director of FAO's Animal Production and Health Division.



"If the situation in Nigeria gets out of control, it will have a devastating impact on the poultry population in the region, it will seriously damage the livelihoods of millions of people and it will increase the exposure of humans to the virus," Jutzi said.



"It is important that local and national authorities within other countries in the region remain vigilant for possible outbreaks of suspected avian influenza in poultry and other birds. It is vital that all instances of multiple bird deaths are reported to authorities and investigated promptly," Jutzi added.



FAO said that people should avoid any contact with obviously diseased or dead birds, maintain personal hygiene (handwashing) after handling poultry or poultry meat and should cook chicken meat and eggs properly.



"It remains unclear if the outbreak has been triggered by migratory birds or by the trade and movement of poultry or poultry products," said Joseph Domenech, FAO chief veterinary officer.



FAO and the World Organization for Animal Health will send veterinary experts to Nigeria to assess the situation and examine how the virus has been introduced.



FAO urged veterinary services in Nigeria to eliminate the outbreaks through immediate humane culling and to strictly control the movement of people and animals from and to bird flu infected spots. FAO will also send two local experts to the affected region to advise local authorities on control measures.



Transparency, rapid interventions and close collaboration with the international community are crucial to stop the spread of the virus, FAO said.



"We are aware that veterinary services in Nigeria are in need of international support. The animal health infrastructure in the country is facing a big challenge and will require outside assistance," Domenech said. Laboratory materials for diagnosis and protective equipment for veterinarians undertaking investigation are urgently required.



Nigeria is member of the West African network on avian influenza surveillance and diagnostics. The recently launched network is managed by FAO in close collaboration with the Inter-African Bureau for Animal Resources of the African Union.



Nigeria has an important commercial poultry sector and millions of backyard poultry farmers. The poultry population is estimated at 140 million.



For more information on the work of FAO visit www.fao.org.



SOURCE: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations via PR Newswire.