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Nigeria to beef up vigilance as US detects avian flu in human

Nigeria to beef up vigilance as US detects avian flu in human

Nigeria is beefing up vigilance as the United States (US) becomes the latest country to detect the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in human.

An individual in the US tested positive for HPAI virus in Texas, according to a release by the US Centre for Disease Control (CDC) on Monday.

The person had exposure to dairy cattle in Texas presumed to be infected with HPAI A (H5N1) viruses.

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The patient reported eye redness consistent with conjunctivitis, as the only symptom, and is recovering.

Although the general public human health risk assessment is considered low, the CDC says people with close or prolonged, unprotected exposures to infected birds, other animals, or environments contaminated by infected birds are at greater risk of infection.

Ifedayo Adetifa, the director-general of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), said the development was worrying and should prompt countries to increase vigilance to forestall another full-blown public health crisis.

“This is scary. We all need to watch this space. First, avian flu in cows, now human cases from bovine exposure. These pathogens are relentless and the price we have to pay is ‘eternal vigilance’ that informs preparedness, especially readiness capacity,” Adetifa said in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

The HPAI virus causes severe disease and high mortality in infected poultry. It can cause disease that affects multiple internal organs with mortality up to 90 percent to 100 percent in chickens, often within 48 hours.

Peter English, a public health expert focused on vaccination and health intelligence said flu viruses mutate very quickly, such that once established in another species, variants that can transmit better have an evolutionary advantage.

In a severe situation, he said a strain might evolve or arise from pathogenic recombination in humans as HPAI is in birds but is transmissible between humans.

“A human-transmissible flu virus with R>1 and a much lower case fatality rate than that would be devastating. This is also why so much work is being (and has been) done to make a “universal” flu vaccine and to be able rapidly to create vaccines against new strains of flu,” he said.

Nigeria was the first country in Africa to confirm the presence of bird flu. The virus was discovered on Sambawa farms in Kaduna State on January 8, 2006, and confirmed by the OIE World Reference Laboratory in Padova, Italy.

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The country recorded its first human case of avian influenza fatality in 2007 with the death of a 22-year-old female in Lagos.

In 2021, amid the COVID-19 pandemic and global food insecurity, the Nigerian poultry sector was exposed to the HPAI virus, causing 467 outbreaks reported in 31 states across the country.

The NCDC carried out sensitisation to farm owners, workers, Live Bird Market (LBM) associations and communities in the affected states.