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The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries has stepped up activities geared towards safeguarding the island’s livestock population against a possible outbreak of the Influenza A (H1N1) virus.
Director of Veterinary Services in the Ministry, Dr. Osbil Watson, said that animal disease surveillance, laboratory diagnoses, and farmer education and public awareness programmes, which have been ongoing over the past several months, have increased, as the Ministry moves to put preventative measures in place against the virus, which has surfaced in some 20 countries globally, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Dr. Watson, who was speaking at a private sector disaster contingency Influenza A forum organised by the American Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM) and the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) at Jamaica House on Tuesday (May 5), said that the Veterinary Services Division has been monitoring the health status of Jamaica’s livestock for an extended period of time. “We actually stepped up that at the stage where we had the H5N1 avian (bird) scare,” he said.
He indicated that the Ministries of Agriculture, and Health, Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), among other stakeholders, collaborated to implement several programmes to ensure that a system is in place to safeguard the nation’s animals and public health.
The Ministry is also monitoring the importation of animals and by-products, particularly in light of recent reports of the infection of a herd of pigs on a farm in Alberta, Canada, with Influenza A, allegedly by an individual who returned to that country following a visit to Mexico.
“Just about 220 of those animals actually had flu-like symptoms, and they tested positive for the H1N1 strain. It has been reported that all of those animals recovered, and the farm is under quarantine, pending further investigations,” he informed.
Save for this occurrence, Dr. Watson said that no other report of an outbreak among pigs or any other animal has surfaced. Despite this discovery, Dr. Watson said there is no evidence to suggest that the virus is transmittable among animals, adding that the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), have assured that it is not spread through pork products.
“So, it is safe to consume properly prepared pork products. We know (however) that the OIE and FAO have teams ready on the ground to do (further investigations) and over the next few days, we will know some more about the virus,” he assured.
Regarding public education and awareness programmes, Dr. Watson informed that the Ministry has been maintaining disease emergency supplies, and is moving to enhance same. “We have the National Emergency Animal Disease Committee, which co-ordinates emergencies dealing with animal diseases, and those particularly of a health threat. We ensure that we have in stock, our personal protective equipment, and other supplies necessary to respond to any disease emergency,” he outlined.
The Director urged Jamaicans to implement preventative measures to safeguard themselves and their property. Chief among these is restricting travel to countries where Influenza A has been reported, or with persons, who have travelled to those areas, for a period of at least seven days.
“We ask for the full co-operation of all Jamaicans, all visitors, to ensure that we work together to maintain a disease-free status. Should there be a situation where we (need to) embark on control or eradication operations, (we trust) that you would be ready and willing to assist us in those efforts,” Dr. Watson implored.
WHO last week declared a stage five pandemic alert level for Influenza A. Approximately 1,400 persons have contracted the virus in countries such as Canada, the United States, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Colombia, and Mexico, where it is reported to have emanated. To date, there has been no reported case of the virus in Jamaica.

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