Avian influenza, commonly called bird flu, is an infectious viral disease of birds, caused by influenza virus.
The disease is hosted by wild birds, which could spread widely within 48 hours that could cause mass deaths, including chicken, ducks, turkey and guinea fowls.
It was first identified in Italy in the early 1900s and now known to exist worldwide, which may infect other species of mammals such as horse, pigs, whales and seals.
However, wild fowls act as natural asymptomatic carriers, and spread to more susceptible domestic stock.
It was first reported in Ghana in 2007 in the Greater Accra Region, and according to the Veterinary Services Department of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture more than 102, 760 birds have been infected and destroyed in the country since the disease was reported in the country.
Since then the disease has been reported in four other regions including, Central, Western, Brong-Ahafo and Ashanti regions.
In 2015, the disease infected poultry in Pong-Katamanso in the Greater Accra, some poultry in Ahanta West in the Western Region and Botwiase in the Central Region.
In 2016, the disease reared its ugly head on April 12, in the Tarkwa-Nsueam Municipality of the Western Region resulting in the destruction of 250 live birds and infected poultry equipment.
How does the viral disease spread?
The disease mostly spread by infected wild birds such as water flow during seasonal movements, eating of infected poultry products and getting in contact with infected poultry with bare hands, as well as importation of poultry products and feed from infected countries.
The disease could also be transmitted among human beings if not detected and treated early, with common symptoms such as severe headache, and throat and joint pains that could result in death.
What are the common symptoms of bird flu?
Birds show the following signs when affected by avian influenza:
Sudden and unexpected deaths of poultry in large numbers, ruffled feathers (rough and stiff looking feathers), opened beak with saliva pouring out of the mouth, watery droppings (faeces) that makes the tail wet, closed eyes, very dull, weak and lack of appetite for food/and water, swollen combs and wattles and pink coloured legs (shanks).Green diarrheoa, blood-tinged discharge from nostrils, respiratory distress, loss of appetite, cyanosis, sudden drop in egg production and soft-shelled eggs.
How can the disease be controlled from spreading?
It is generally controlled by segregating infected birds, slaughtering and bury them. Alternative strategies include poultry vaccination as a supplementary control measure during outbreak to reduce the risk of contamination of the environment and human infection.
Therefore, persons authorised to handle infected or dead birds must wear protective gear, to prevent possible infection or contamination.
Precautionary requirements such as cleaning and disinfection of poultry surroundings and the establishment of Biosecurity barriers to help prevent the spread of the disease.
Is Ghana still susceptible to avian influenza?
The country shares boundaries and trades with its neighbouring countries such as La Cote d’Ivoire, Togo, Burkina Faso, Benin and other countries in the sub-Saharan Africa and as long as those countries keep on recording avian influenza, Ghana would remain susceptible to the viral disease.
Besides, nobody could stop wild birds from migrating across borders; therefore, the country must always remain alert and sensitise the populace to be conscious of its existence.
Dr Paul Nomuka Polkuu, Epidemiologist with the Epidemiology Unit of the Veterinary Services Department, has noted that the spread of the viral disease could negatively impact local and global economies and harm the international trade relations of Ghana.
He, therefore, entreated traditional leaders, assembly members, religious bodies and the media, to join forces, to educate the public on preventive measures, in order to curb its widespread.
According to him, any country that continues recording bird flu among its poultry population risked being banned by the World Health Organisation and Food and Agriculture Organisation, from exporting poultry products to the international market.
He, therefore, entreated poultry farmers in the country to promptly report any symptoms of the viral disease in their farms to the Veterinary Services for laboratory examination and analysis.
Is there any compensation package for affected poultry farmers?
Dr Polkuu, who is also a Deputy Director of the Department, indicated that out of 36 farmers whose poultry were affected, 25 had received compensation package totalling GH? 1, 067,355, as part of efforts by Government to encourage farmers to report any early detection of bird flu outbreak on their farms.
There was a total of 44,144 birds belonging to the 25 farmers which were destroyed, and the price for each fowl was calculated based on the market value of live birds, eggs and feeds prevailing at that time.
He said the compensation packages of the remaining 16 farmers are being worked out. So far, government has approved GH? 11 million to pay compensation and undertake sensitisation programmes to combat the deadly disease in view of the economic losses the outbreak brings to farmers and the country at large.
Alhaji Abubakar Sufyan, a Public Health Officer at the Health Promotion Unit of the Ghana Health Service, indicated that effective risk communication strategy helps in preventing the disease from wide-spreading.
He, therefore, advocated the need for the establishment of Social Mobilisation Committees across all metropolitan, municipal and district assemblies, to create awareness about the disease, saying “disaster prevention starts when there is no disaster”.
And since then the Veterinary Services Department, the Ghana Health Service and the National Disaster Management Organisation have collaborated, to educate Ghanaians on the dangers of the disease and have been to Volta, Greater Accra, Eastern, Ashanti and Western regions on advocacy campaign against bird flu.
The campaign provided a platform to share information on Situational Report on avian influenza outbreak in the country.
It also undertook risk Communication and Social Mobilisation training, so that the citizenry would understand its implications and be conscious of its existence.
Let us all observe personal and environmental cleanness to avoid contracting diseases.