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Agriculture stakeholders in Clarendon recently benefited from a bird flu sensitization workshop, where they were provided with information about the disease and the measures to take to prevent any outbreak.
The workshop, held at the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) office in Denbigh, was organized by the Veterinary Division in the Ministry of Agriculture and targeted animal health technicians, representatives of the veterinary fraternity and farmers.
Dr. Paul Cadogan, Public Relations Officer of the Jamaica Veterinary Medical Association, pointed out that bird flu was a highly contagious viral disease that could also affect mammals such as pigs and humans.
He said that all species of birds could be affected but the more susceptible species were domestic chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, guinea fowl, quail, and pheasants in addition to waterfowls and seabirds.
“The disease can be transmitted from bird to bird through the faeces where one gram of bird dropping can contain enough of the virus to infect one million birds and also through aerosol transmission, where one bird may sneeze on another,” he informed.
Transmission to humans, he said, “may come through close contact with infected birds or animals, their meat blood or faecal matter, which suggests that persons who are slaughtering and cleaning up poultry can contract it”.
He added that the virus was able to survive in raw poultry, meat or eggs including those that are frozen, but could be destroyed by cooking above 70 degrees Celsius (148 degrees Fahrenheit).
The threat to the Caribbean, Dr. Cadogan noted, existed mainly through bird migration, the importation of pet or exotic birds or poultry and poultry products.
Noting the significant economic cost of the disease, he mentioned that some US$65 million was spent to control outbreaks in Pennsylvania in the United States between 1983 and 1984; over US$20 million in Chile in 2002; and US$400 million in the Netherlands in 2003.
Over 100 cases of the disease have been found in humans in South East Asian countries from the late 1990s to present, Dr. Cadogan informed, with over 60 of these persons dying. He added that outbreaks have now been spreading to European countries. “In these cases, there have been no clear instances of human to human transmission. All cases were those that had very close contact with infected chickens,” he emphasized.
Control measures, he said, included avoiding contact between wild birds and poultry; proper sanitation of poultry farms including proper cleaning of feeding and water containers and utensils; disinfecting bird cages between batches of birds; disinfecting water boots when entering or leaving the cages; controlling human traffic on poultry farms; vaccinating birds; slaughtering all diseased birds in an outbreak situation; proper disposal of all carcasses and faecal matter; and waiting at least 21 days before restocking poultry.
Food safety precautions, he noted should also involve avoiding contact between ready to eat food and raw meat, which should also include washing hands between handling of either kind of food and washing utensils; washing hands thoroughly after handling raw meat or eggs; and cooking food thoroughly, which should exclude the consumption of ‘pink’ or ‘rare’ meat and runny eggs.