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UAE 'is not at risk of bird flu outbreak'

posted on 15/01/2006: 1431 views

A bird flu outbreak affecting Turkey is unlikely to happen in the UAE as it does not lie within the infected migratory birds' flight path or contain the elements to spread the disease. Kayan Jaff, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) representative in the UAE, said the threat of importing or contracting the lethal H5N1 virus was remote. Turkey is battling a bird flu outbreak that has killed three people and infected 15 others, amid signs that the virus has evolved to become more transmittable to humans.

"There is no imminent direct risk from Turkey, it's too far," he told Gulf News over the telephone. "The migratory birds [that fly over Turkey] do not go through the UAE," he said. He said the countries most at risk now were Turkey's neighbours, including Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Iran and Syria, adding that the virus would likely head north to Europe.

Jaff said although sick birds might fly above the UAE, the country was not in any immediate danger as the modes of transmission among poultry and humans were not present. The cases in Turkey involve people who had direct contact with sick birds, the only confirmed method of transmission, and practised backyard farming in eastern rural towns. The virus has since spread to other parts of Turkey, including the capital city, Ankara.

The H5N1 virus has an about 50 per cent fatality rate, killing 79 of 161 people infected. Most of the cases were reported in Southeast Asia where the disease is considered endemic in Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia. Turkey is the first country outside Asia to report fatalities from bird flu. Health experts are worried the virus will mutate to become easily transmissible to humans thus causing a global pandemic that will kill millions.

Although the UAE lies within two major paths of migrating birds, the flight plan of birds thought to bring the virus into Turkey is not through the UAE. Nevertheless, the UAE has prepared a comprehensive bird flu-preparedness plan in the even an outbreak occurs in the country. (The Gulf News)


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