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Bird flu hits farm near Nigeria's biggest city, Lagos

By Staff
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ABUJA, Mar 11 (Reuters) Bird flu has spread to a farm in the southwestern Nigerian state of Ogun, near Lagos, officials said today, in a blow for authorities who previously thought that part of the country was free of the disease.

The laboratory that is testing samples from the farm said it looked ''very likely'' the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu was present there, although the tests were not finished.

Officials were culling birds and decontaminating the farm, said Junaidu Maina, acting director of the livestock department at the federal Agriculture Ministry.

''It's just in one farm in Ogun. They had about 130,000 birds before the disease. Culling is going on now. About 85,000 birds have already been culled,'' Maina told Reuters.

''We are treating it as H5N1,'' he added.

Maina said samples from the farm had been sent to Italian and British laboratories for further tests.

Ogun borders Lagos, home to an estimated 13 million people, and Nigeria's Western neighbour, Benin.

An outbreak of bird flu in Lagos, where chickens run free in crowded streets and backyards and where sanitary conditions are dire, could cause a health disaster.

Despite efforts to contain it, bird flu has spread to 130 poultry farms in 11 states from the far north to the far south of Nigeria, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said today.

The WHO said no human cases have been confirmed so far, but results are still pending on samples from four Nigerians, including a woman who died on February. 16, that were sent over a week ago to a British laboratory.

Africa's first outbreak of H5N1 bird flu was confirmed at a commercial farm in the northern state of Kaduna on Feb. 8.

The government ordered culling, quarantine and a poultry transport ban but a lack of resources to implement the measures allowed the disease to quickly spread across Africa's most populous country.

International experts have warned the systems for detecting bird flu among poultry and people in Africa are weak. In rural Nigeria, health services are almost non-existent, mortality rates are high from a variety of diseases, and people are often buried without a medical check.

Benin is among several African countries that have banned imports of Nigerian poultry, but such bans are difficult to enforce along Nigeria's long, poorly controlled borders.

Bird flu has been found in Niger, Nigeria's northern neighbour, which has also announced a ban on poultry imports.

H5N1 can pass from birds to humans. Scientists fear it will mutate into a form that can pass easily between humans. This could cause a global flu pandemic and kill millions of people.

REUTERS KD RK2115

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