BAHA seizes $600,000 worth of breeder hens to contain bird flu outbreak at Spanish Lookout

By Benjamin Flowers
Staff Reporter

An outbreak of bird (Avian) flu detected in the Cayo District last weekend has sent BAHA, the Belize Agricultural Health Authorities into overdrive.
Over the weekend BAHA confiscated 12,000 infected breeder hens, said to be worth $600,000.

BAHA called an impromptu press conference to explain this week that the outbreak in the Cayo district will not affect poultry products for public consumption.

Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Agriculture, Jose Alpuche, joined with BAHA to explain lab testing results of the chickens in the Spanish Lookout area and their implications for the rest of the country.
Official results obtained last Friday confirm the presence of Avian Influenza H-Five N-Two antibodies at one chicken farm. No live virus has been detected so far, Alpuche said.

He said the incident is an agricultural concern; not a public health issue, though the Ministry of Agriculture has been collaborating with the Ministry of Health through out the entire process.

Chief Veterinary Officer for BAHA, Miguel de Paz, explained that even though the influenza subtype is the same that caused severe losses to Mexico’s poultry industry, the antibodies found do not give the impression that the situation will escalate to that magnitude.

“The public also doesn’t need to worry about human transmission because it has never been recorded in history that H5N2 has ever affected humans.
“It’s not impossible but highly unlikely,” de Paz said with confidence.
He added that the Ministry of Agriculture has in place a national action plan for dealing with bird flu, which took effect at the first detection of the virus.

Quarantine zones were immediately set up and check points established to restrict the movements of poultry products out of Spanish lookout.
Testing is ongoing at the farms where the antibodies were first detected and in the surrounding areas.

While BAHA does not know how the virus came to affect the chickens, the authority suspects either wild bird migration or an attempt at vaccination.
Through BAHA’s tests, 12,000 chickens were found to have antibodies of the virus. Those birds have been confiscated by BAHA. These birds are special breeding chickens used to produce chickens for consumption.

According to the Belize Poultry Association, these birds are valued at $600,000 because they are breeder hens.
The highly pathogenic influenza A virus subtype H5N1 is an emerging avian influenza virus that has been causing global concern as a potential pandemic threat….

H5N1 has killed millions of poultry in a growing number of countries throughout Asia, Europe, and Africa. Health experts are concerned that the coexistence of human flu viruses and avian flu viruses (especially H5N1) will provide an opportunity for genetic material to be exchanged between species-specific viruses, possibly creating a new virulent influenza strain that is easily transmissible and lethal to humans. The mortality rate for humans with H5N1 is 60 percent.

The first H5N1 outbreak occurred in 1987. Since 1987 there has been an increasing number of HPAI H5N1 bird-to-human transmissions, leading to clinically severe and fatal human infections.

Because a significant species barrier exists between birds and humans, though, the virus does not easily cross over to humans, though some cases of infection are being researched to discern whether human to human transmission is occurring. More research is necessary to understand the pathogenesis and epidemiology of the H5N1 virus in humans.

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