Countries across West and Central Africa are on alert as bird flu continues to spread across the region, with Cameroon becoming the latest African country to detect the disease, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has said.
The disease, which is a highly pathogenic avian influenza virus that is known by its scientific term as H5N1, can infect and cause death in humans and kills poultry at a high rate.
The latest H5N1 outbreaks were recently confirmed on chicken farms in Cameroon putting the poultry production in the country and its neighbours at high risk. This is the first time the disease has been found in Central Africa since 2006.
H5N1 causes major losses of nutritious food and threatens farmers' livelihoods, particularly in resource-poor environments where governments have difficulty providing financial compensation for losses.
This brings the number of countries that have battled bird flu in West and Central Africa to six, which also include Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Niger and Nigeria.
Nigeria continues to be most affected with the total number of outbreaks exceeding 750 with nearly 3.5 million birds dead or culled.
The newly recorded outbreaks in Cameroon raise significant concerns that the disease may be advancing southward, triggering national and global emergency responses to contain the disease, and health screenings of poultry workers.
FAO, meanwhile, is alerting neighbouring governments to be vigilant and continue their heightened surveillance and prevention efforts, including common messaging to the public and data sharing between the public health and agriculture sectors.
“We’re looking at a quickly spreading disease that has devastating effects on livelihoods in communities,” said Abebe Haile Gabriel, FAO Deputy Regional Representative for Africa. “H5N1 causes major losses of nutritious food and threatens farmers’ livelihoods, particularly in resource-poor environments where governments have difficulty providing financial compensation for losses,” he said, adding that “trade restrictions often pose an additional hardship on already struggling economies.”
The H5N1 strain of avian influenza has caused the death of tens of millions of poultry and losses of tens of billions of dollars worldwide since the virus first spread internationally in 2013 — in Cameroon alone, losses have added up to an estimated $20 million, according to local media reports.