CAIRO: Minister of Agriculture Amin Abaza said in February that he expected the country to be rid of avian influenza by the time the bird migration season ended in late March. Today, with the number of human infections having reached 11, including three fatalities, Abaza s prediction has clearly not transpired and the outbreak is expected to continue for quite some time, according to a statement from the Supreme National Committee to Combat Bird Flu.
The committee, which includes several senior officials and is chaired by Minister of Health Hatem El-Gabaly, has overall responsibility for the government s policies to eradicate the virus.
In light of the fact that most human cases were due to contact with domestic birds, the committee decided on Sunday to vaccinate household birds; the committee is also in the process of setting up a fund to support bird flu eradication measures. The fund will be under the control of the cabinet and will receive contributions from other countries.
A training center is also being established for poultry workers who are responsible for reporting cases and implementing preventative measures. Training is expected to begin shortly in four of the worst-hit governorates: Sharqia, Qalyoubeya, Giza and Monoufia.
Strictly speaking, households in Cairo are currently prohibited from raising poultry and any shop that sells or slaughters live birds is subject to a penalty of one-month closure.
On a national level, there is a ban on the transport of live birds between governorates. Many in the poultry business are not prepared for the refrigerated transport of slaughtered birds, as approximately 80 percent of chickens were sold live prior to the outbreak of bird flu in the country.
At least one company has been badly affected by the transport ban. Egypt for Poultry, a publicly-traded company, said in a letter to the stock exchange that it halted all its activities due to its inability to transport chickens to its protein factory.
All of the activities in all the company s locations have stopped in their entirety at present, Egypt for Poultry Chairman Ali Abdel Samih said in the letter. And the company has become as still as rock.
In addition to the 11 confirmed human cases, scores of others have been tested for the virus around the country with negative results. These individuals had exhibited symptoms of the disease and were all either employed at poultry farms or had been in contact with dead birds. At the beginning of April, 642 farms reported cases of infected birds with most cases, nearly one-third, in the Sharqia governorate.
The proximity of farms to one-another has encouraged the spread of the virus, according to Ministry of Health spokesperson, Abdel Rahman Shahin. To address this, new measures will be implemented for establishing poultry farms which include a gap of at least 3 km between farms. Shahin added that farms will be moved out of residential areas in the Cairo, Qalyoubeya and Giza governorates.
The H5N1 strain of bird flu, its most aggressive form, has killed over 100 people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), and seen millions of birds slaughtered. The highly pathogenic H5N1 strain of the avian influenza virus was first detected in birds in Egypt in February. The first human case was reported on March 18. According to health officials, although no human-to-human transmission has yet been reported in Egypt, the risk of contamination from infected birds remains high because public awareness is low. According to poultry industry experts, Egypt consumes some 800 million birds a year and exports to the entire region. While the compliance of larger farms with anti-bird flu measures can be more easily controlled, some Egyptians, in mainly rural areas, have been reluctant to give up their domestic rearings.