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PAKISTAN: 25,000 birds culled after confirmation of avian flu

ISLAMABAD, 28 Feb 2006 (IRIN) - As many as 25,000 chickens were culled on Tuesday at two poultry farms in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province (NWFP), where low pathogenic avian influenza, a mild form of bird flu, had been detected one day earlier.

"As a precautionary measure all the birds at suspected farms in the two cities have been destroyed," Dr Muhammad Afzal, livestock commissioner at the Ministry of Food and Agriculture said in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. However, "There is no report of bird flu from any other farm in the country to date," he added.

In NWFP, the chickens were asphyxiated with carbon dioxide in plastic bags and then buried, according to officials.

On Monday, initial tests in Pakistan pointed to the presence of a mild H5 strain of avian influenza at poultry farms in Abbottabad and Charsadda districts of NWFP. Samples were subsequently sent to the World Reference Laboratory in England to determine if it was the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain.

"We are also conducting tests locally but it will take three weeks for us to complete these tests," Afzal told Reuters. "It's better to take an international opinion as well, so we have sent the samples to Britain."

According to health experts, not all H5 varieties are highly pathogenic, but the H5N1 virus is particularly tenacious and poses the greatest risk to people.

Pakistan has already banned the import of poultry products and birds from 22 countries, including neighbouring India and Iran, where cases of bird flu were reported about 10 days ago. Wild bird hunting is also banned to prevent hunters from killing migratory birds.

Meanwhile, the food ministry has asked the poultry farm owners to increase the bio-security level in their farms and immediately report any abnormal or high mortality rate to local veterinarians or district livestock or poultry development officers.

Additionally, two teams of public health experts, including specialists from the World Health Organization (WHO), have been dispatched to the two cities of Charsadda and Abbottabad for further assessment of the situation.

The H5N1 strain has killed at least 93 people since late 2003 and the virus has spread rapidly in the past month with cases in wild birds and poultry confirmed across parts of Europe and Africa, as well as in India and Malaysia.

In 2003, a mild strain of bird flu killed at least 3.5 million chickens in Pakistan's southern port city of Karachi.

According to the Pakistan Poultry Association, as the news of the latest outbreak hit the headlines on Monday, the prices of poultry products had already dropped by 10 percent.

The above article comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2006

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