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Afghanistan begins bird flu cull

Written by: Staff
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KABUL, Mar 22 (Reuters) Afghan workers in protective suits and masks fanned out through a Kabul neighbourhood of low, mud-brick homes today, rounding up chickens and spraying disinfectant, hoping to stamp out the H5N1 birdflu virus.

The H5N1 virus was confirmed in chickens in the capital and an eastern province last week and is assumed to have spread to at least three other provinces, officials said.

The cull was delayed for several days while impoverished Afghanistan tried to find protective suits for the teams.

Eventually, the US military provided enough to get going.

''Two cases were confirmed in this village, some chickens already died here, some pigeons also died here,'' Azizullah Osmani, chief of the Agriculture Ministry's veterinary department, told reporters as the cull was launched.

Bird flu has killed 103 people since late 2003, most of them in Asia.

Although difficult for humans to catch, experts fear the virus could mutate into a form that passes easily between people and trigger a pandemic that could kill millions.

There have been no human cases in Afghanistan but there is concern that, with veterinary and health sectors still recovering from decades of conflict, the country could struggle to contain an outbreak.

Many Afghan chicken farmers and traders are illiterate and have little knowledge of the disease. Authorities have yet to produce much public information on the danger.

Osmani said that as well as collecting and culling all chickens in the area, pens and yards were being sprayed with disinfectant.

Teams would monitor a zone 5-10 km from the site of the cull, he said, and if sick chickens were found, the process would be repeated there.

Culls would be conducted in at least three other areas of Kabul province, he said.

Residents of the neighbourhood in the west of Kabul, where many people keep a few chickens in back yards, appeared resigned to losing their birds.

One man, Mohammad Ibrahim, said his 20 chickens had all suddenly died as had a cat that ate one of the carcasses.

Officials have said it will be important to compensate people whose chickens are culled.

Afghanistan's poultry industry was decimated by several years of drought up to 2005 and is small-scale with only an estimated 12 million chickens in the country.

REUTERS DKS BS1710

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