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Bird flu in Nigeria

Sonya DiehnJanuary 22, 2015

An outbreak of the virulent H5N1 strain of avian influenza has been confirmed in Nigeria. Though not easily transmissable to humans, health experts fear the virus may jump the species barrier and cause a pandemic.

Dead birds being dumped in a pit for burning in Kano, Nigeria, February 2006 (Photo: EPA/ONOME OGHENE)
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Oghene

Seven of Nigeria's 36 states have reported cases, and the Nigerian agricultural ministry has confirmed that the outbreak can be attributed to the H5N1 strain.

More than 140,000 birds have reportedly been exposed, with more than 22,000 having already died as a result.

"Nigeria will successfully control the bird flu outbreak. We have successfully controlled it in the past," Agriculture Minister Akinwumi Adesina said in a statement Thursday (22.01.2015).

Nigeria was the first African country to experience a known outbreak of bird flu, back in 2006. That outbreak was not fully contained until 2008.

The ministry said it was working with state governments, the Poultry Association of Nigeria, the Nigerian Veterinary Medical Association and the Animal Science Association of Nigeria to "put in place comprehensive measures to contain the spread of the bird flu."

H5N1 is the most virulent strain of avian influenza, a virus also known as bird flu. The virus has killed millions of birds since emerging in Asia in the late 1980s. Although it is not easily transmissible to humans, several hundred humans have died in the course of outbreaks.

H5N1 virus under the microscope (Photo: AP/RKI, Bannert)
Among birds, H5N1 is among the most transmissable subtype of avian influenza-causing virusesImage: AP

Health experts, however, fear the virus may mutate to cross the species barrier and affect humans in large numbers.

Kano State has been the most affected, with more than 100,000 exposed birds.

Adesina also said that farms in Nigeria where the virus was detected "have been quarantined and decontaminated," adding that "Depopulation, decontamination and quarantine are currently ongoing" at other locations, which include live bird markets and zoos.

While the agriculture minister urged Nigerians to continue eating poultry normally, he requested they thoroughly cook any poultry products and exercise proper hygiene after handling them raw.