The world is at risk of major animal disease outbreaks like that seen in the 2006 avian influenza outbreaks unless surveillance and control of these diseases are enhanced, warns the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in a news release Jan. 29.
With governments cash-strapped financially, the UN agency is worried that investments in prevention and control measures of these potentially devastating diseases are lacking and could potentially turn into something as serious as a full-scale pandemic.
“The continuing international economic downturn means less money is available for prevention of H5N1 bird flu and other threats of animal origin. This is not only true for international organizations but also countries themselves,” says FAO Chief Veterinary Officer Juan Lubroth. “Even though everyone knows that prevention is better than cure, I am worried because in the current climate governments are unable to keep up their guard.”
The FAO argues that investments in prevention in diseases like bird flu also make economic sense. They cite the example of how with avian influenza, or bird flu, during the period of 2003 and 2011, the disease killed or forced the culling of more than 400 million domestic chickens and ducks and caused an estimated $20 billion of economic damage.
Avian influenza can also be a deadly pathogen to humans who can contract the virus from sick birds. The World Health Organization (WHO) says globally since 2003, there have been 615 laboratory confirmed cases of avian influenza in humans with 364 related deaths.
In fact, just in the past week, the Kingdom of Cambodia has reported five cases of human avian influenza H5N1, in which four of the patients died.
According to the WHO, avian influenza (AI) is an infectious viral disease of birds (especially wild water fowl such as ducks and geese), often causing no apparent signs of illness. AI viruses can sometimes spread to domestic poultry and cause large-scale outbreaks of serious disease. Some of these AI viruses have also been reported to cross the species barrier and cause disease or subclinical infections in humans and other mammals.
AI viruses are divided into two groups based on their ability to cause disease in poultry: high pathogenicity or low pathogenicity. Highly pathogenic viruses result in high death rates (up to 100% mortality within 48 hours) in some poultry species. Low pathogenicity viruses also cause outbreaks in poultry but are not generally associated with severe clinical disease.
In addition to the concerns over bird flu, the FAO said the viral disease of sheep and goats, peste des petits ruminants (PPR), is expanding in areas of sub-Sahara Africa.
Dr. Lubroth notes that the disease is “causing havoc in the Democratic Republic of Congo among other countries – and is just starting to spill over into southern Africa, the damage could well be huge”.
“The irony is that a perfectly good vaccine exists for PPR, but few people are using it,” he adds. Along with tight finances, lack of political will, and poor planning and coordination are other reasons why PPR and other animal diseases are often allowed to spread.”
Peste des petits ruminants virus (PPRV) is a highly contagious viral disease of sheep and goats. Heavy losses can be seen, especially in goats; all of the affected animals in some herds may die.
PPRV is closely related to rinderpest virus.
Transmission of PPRV mainly occurs during close contact. Inhalation is thought to be an important route of spread. PPRV is shed in nasal and ocular secretions, saliva, urine and feces. It probably occurs in milk.
Fomites such as water, feed troughs and bedding can probably transmit PPRV for a short time, but do not remain infectious for long periods.
The incubation period can range from two to 10 days; in most cases, clinical signs appear in 2-6 days.
The symptoms of PPR are very similar to those of rinderpest: fever, anorexia, depression, nasal and ocular discharges, difficult respiration, necrotic lesions on gum, lips and tongue resulting in salivation, erosions on the nasal mucosa and finally diarrhea The formation of small nodular skin lesions on the outside of the lips around the muzzle and the development of pneumonia during the later stages of the disease are frequently seen in PPR but not in rinderpest.
Mild cases also occur with less marked clinical symptoms and absence of one or more of the cardinal features. Morbidity up to 100 % and mortality rates between 20 and 90 % are common, except in endemic areas or when mild disease occurs.
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