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Mar 29, 2007

Authorities formulate plans to fight bird flu

Story PictureLike the scientific theory called global warming, bird flu is one of those impending disasters that we are told is not a matter of “if”, but “when”. Today the folks who will have to deal most directly with the problem met to refine their plans.

Jacqueline Godwin, Reporting
Avian influenza, better known as bird flu, is not only limited to poultry but migratory birds can also be carriers of the disease.

Dr. Victor Gongora, Director, BAHA Animal Health
“Migratory birds always present a risk of bringing in diseases because they can theoretically right now bring in Avian Influenza. We have had two outbreaks in the past and I think it was brought in by migratory birds. This is the West Nile virus; we have had cases in horses in Crooked Tree and in I think it is the Indian Creek in the Orange Walk District, which suggest that it came somehow through migratory birds, got into our local population and infected the horses.”

And while Avian Influenza has not been identified in Belize, in other countries it has spread to humans who are in close contact with infected birds. In 2003, the virus first made the headlines in Asia and, four years, later incidents in Europe and Africa have now put other countries, including Belize, on high alert. The concern has resulted in a number of public awareness campaigns and other preparatory activities.

Dr. Victor Gongora
“We do our own checks with communities, with the villages, with the commercial farms, periodically every three to four months we just go and do random testing. Birds Without Borders, they are also out there looking at birds and if the have any suspects then they would give us a call and they have done that in the past. We have sent a sample, but it was negative. As well, we are working with the poultry industry, we are trying to get farmers to notify us so that we can go in and test and that keeps us on the lookout for it.”

There is the concern that the highly pathogenic strain of the virus H5N1 will be responsible for the next worldwide pandemic. Health Services Deputy Director, Dr. Paul Edwards has stated that while it is unfortunate that they will not be able to stop the virus it, health officials are taking the necessary steps to contain it. Special attention is being given to high risk locations that include the numerous poultry farms in Spanish Lookout.

Dr. Victor Gongora
“And that is why it is a concern, because then it is not just one farmer but many farmers and many people will then be affected. So we have to, our measures have to be appropriate for the level of risks that we have and that’s a high risk if it were to enter there because everybody is susceptible, vulnerable so our plan is geared to do that, to meet that situation.”

The general public is being informed through publications that were presented to community leaders. BAHA’s Animal Health Director, Dr. Victor Gongora, today briefed a group of interested parties as part of Belize’s Emergency Preparedness Plan.

Dr. Victor Gongora
“We didn’t want to just, here it is, take one and leave, but try to educate you about it as well so that you have an informed decision and you would now be able to understand when let’s say something happens elsewhere, you will be able to understand it and you will have a resource material to look at. And if something happens in Belize then we wouldn’t be starting from scratch.”

The participants included teachers, farmers, and owners of large poultry processors.

Dr. Victor Gongora
“We have coordination with the Ministry of Health, we have NEMO in charge of the emergency response and at the local level, at the BAHA agricultural level we are out there looking at farms, responding to calls from farmers, responding to call from Belize City because you have some birds in the city and if there is any high mortality, they call us so we can do the testing.”

Once again, health officials say the objective is to not to cause a panic but to be prepared.

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Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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