By Ameen Abduljalil
SANA'A, April 17 (Saba) - Health authorities say that "tough measures" are in place to ward off the avian flu which is threatening the lives of thousands of birds in Asia. The government has recently said it has sent health teams to most ports of entry to set up quarantines. The rising concern has prompted questions over Yemen's vulnerability to the virus.
The ministry of agriculture has denied claims that infected migratory birds have arrived on the coasts of Hadhramawt. Claims also existed that the ministry planned to destroy 2350 birds that had tested positive for avian flu in poultries across the country. Skepticism remains over health authority claims that bird flu cannot enter the country.
Consumers are particularly worried since bird flu is a disease "that can easily go undetected", according to Hashem Al-Qaood. "With no sophisticated equipment to react to the outbreak - God forbid - of such a disaster, health authorities only risk their credibility when they claim they are prepared. Al-Qaood highlights the threat posed by "migratory birds spreading highly pathogenic avian influenza and the fact that wild waterfowl are reservoirs of influenza. This is to show that there are different outlets for the pandemic to strike." Fuad Al-Omari echoes Al-Qaood adding that the need now is for more consumer awareness.
"For me, I consider stockpiling a supply of poultry meat, once the epidemic- God forbid -happens. I'll regret not having bought enough chicken. Who knows? It could happen today or tomorrow." The level of consumer awareness is relatively good. Jameel Amrani is at least aware that "migratory birds can introduce low pathogenic viruses to poultry flocks, which, in turn, transform to forms highly pathogenic."
He is hopeful the measures of the health authorities are "adequate enough to stave off the pandemic that is spreading like wildfire in countries like Indonesia, Vietnam, Romania, China, Thailand and other countries." Salah Saleh sees the response of Japan, South Korea and Malaysia to the pandemic as "awe-inspiring", as all those countries have managed to control the disease quickly. "Can we do that as well if the disease strikes?" he inquires.
As for his awareness whether avian flu can be transmitted into humans, he cited the current flu-causing virus as a strain deadly to humans as well. He is afraid that through direct contact with infected poultry or their droppings, the avian flu will hit humans. "Health authorities say they have put measures into effect in all ports of entry and in centers of provinces. That is fine.
What they should be doing in the meantime is launch awareness drives, especially in rural areas. People should be instructed in how to handle a disaster of this kind, how to contain the epidemic and how to prevent it from infecting humans in particular. As a result of inadequate veterinary services - or no such services at all - in rural areas, everyone is aware that an ill chicken and other domestic birds often die of the first disease they catch. The result of this is that impoverished families are quick to slaughter and cook these fowls.
Although, it is not yet proven that properly cooked poultry or eggs can be a source of infection, exposure is most likely during slaughter, depluming, butchering, and preparation of poultry for cooking." The current outbreaks of avian influenza, which began in South-east Asia in mid-2003, are the most rampant and critical on record, Mu'ez Al-Najri believes.
"Starting from December in 2003 through February of 2004, avian flu respectively struck, South Korea, Vietnam, Japan, Thailand, Cambodia, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Indonesia, and China. Today, the disease for the first time is likely to strike humans as well. The current outbreak is a H5N1 strain of bird flu that has killed 60 people, in most cases, through contact with infected birds." Emad Mahjour says that the only way is prevention.
It will be very hard for Yemen and every other country that falls victim to bird flu to get rid of the pandemic once it has arrived. "Nations that have already got the virus are destroying hundreds of thousands of fowl but to no avail." "There are no reliable techniques for identifying the virus and tracing its transmissions," he says, "not even in the world's most advanced nations. People tested and found negative for H5N1 could in another test be found positive. The proliferation of the virus in poultry and wild birds in new regions further broadens the chances of human infection. It takes only a few bird-to-human infections before the virus will spread unchecked and then spread from human to human."
Anwar Khaled who has been following the case in the newspapers and on the web says that bird flu has created a media storm similar to the one created by Hurricane Katrina. "SARS was the great story in 2002. Since 2003, avian flu has come to the fore. Since its breakout, bird flu seems to have gone out of control. For me, that shows that the world is ill-prepared to deal with even ordinary health threats.
In fact, there are causes that make this strain of virus spread rapidly. Avian influenza spreads in the air and faeces and can also be transmitted via water, food and clothing, however, the virus cannot survive in fully-cooked meat." Muafa Sayf Radaman, a former pharmacist, says: "In humans, the symptoms of bird flu are akin to the symptoms of other sorts of flu, fever, cough, sore throat, muscle aches, and breathing problems.
Effective anti-viral vaccines are not yet available. There are vaccines for seasonal types of flu only. But these cannot cure pandemics. The special vaccine for the H5N1 virus is being designed in a number of world countries. It will take a few more months before a vaccine of this type is ready." Poultry and Mycotoxins Recently, a Yemeni researcher found that poultries are ideal routes for food mycotoxins. He collected twenty-nine samples of poultry rations from four provinces in order to study their associated fungi and to determine their constituents of mycotoxins.
The findings were as follows: Fungi associated and isolated from poultry ration samples were identified as: Aspergillus flavus, A. niger, A. candidus, A. carneus, Fusarium moniliforme, Penicillium chrysogenum, Penicillium spp., Mucor sp, and Rhizopus nigricans. Frequency occurrence percentage of fungi isolated from samples collected from Sana'a Poultry Ration Supply Companies (SPRSC) showed that F. moniliforme was significantly dominant (41.7%), followed by A. flavus (20%). Frequency occurrence was 10% and 9.2% for A. candidus and Penicillium spp. Fungi such as A. carneus A. candidus, A. niger, Mucor sp, and Rhizopus nigricans significantly differed in prevailing from poultry ration samples tested. P. chrysogenum and A. candidus occurrence didn't differ significantly. Samples of No.1, No.3 , No. 4 and No.5 collected from (SPRSC) didn't significantly differ in their fungi associated. Significant difference of fungi occurrence was detected in No. 2 and No. 3 samples.
Similarly, percentage occurrence of fungi for sample No.3 differed significantly from these given by No.5 sample. Frequency occurrence percentage of fungi isolated from samples collected from Taiz Poultry Ration Supply Companies (TPRSC) showed that A. flavus significantly was dominant (47.8%), followed by F. moniliforme (26.7%). A. candidus occurrence differed significantly from these given by A. carneus.
Fungi associated with sample No.1 was significantly higher than these prevailed from other four poultry ration sample collected.
Fungi associated with poultry ration samples collected from Sana'a (SPRSC) generally differed significantly from these associated with poultry samples collected from Taiz (TPRSC) except for Mucor sp., Rhizopus sp, A. carneus and Penicillium chrysogenum in which they didn't occur significantly in the two governorates. Fungi associated with poultry samples collected from poultry farms in Sana'a governorate indicated that F. moniliforme was the most dominantly and significantly occurring (30.2%) followed by A. carneus (25.5%), A. flavus (17.4 %), P. chrysogenum (16.7%).
Poultry ration samples collected from farmer's poultry farms in Sana'a didn't differ significantly for their level of fungal contamination except for No.6 sample in which it showed the highest contaminated sample. In poultry samples collected from Taiz poultry farms, F. moniliforme, was the most significantly prevailing (50%) followed by A. flavus (16.3%).
Other isolated fungi associated with poultry ration samples didn't differ significantly for their level of fungal contamination. For Taiz, poultry ration samples fungal contamination, there was no significant difference between samples except for No. 3 and No. 4 samples.