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Niger begins cull weeks after finding bird flu

Written by: Staff

NIAMEY, Apr 9 (Reuters) Niger, one of the world's poorest countries, began culling poultry today, more than a month after it first discovered an outbreak of deadly avian flu near its southern border with Nigeria.

The semi-desert former French colony ordered the culling of all poultry in affected areas on February 28, the day after an outbreak of H5N1 was confirmed. It later appealed for international help, saying it lacked the resources to do the job.

The security forces sealed off some 46 villages around Magaria, a town on Niger's southern border just a few kilometres (miles) from Nigeria, and only those wearing protective suits were allowed into the area, state radio reported.

Environmental officials said other measures had been tightened as soon as the outbreak was confirmed, including restrictions on the movement of poultry in the affected region and the isolation and permanent surveillance of some 20 farms around the country.

Health experts fear Africa's poor human and animal health services, large backyard poultry population, and lack of resources to fight bird flu make it an easy target for the disease, which has killed more than 100 people worldwide.

They also fear lack of funding and international help could stymie efforts to curtail its spread.

Much of the .9 billion pledged at a bird flu summit in January was for Asia and the UN bird flu coordinator, David Nabarro, has said countries infected more recently, such as those in Africa, need more funds.

Burkina Faso last Monday became the fifth African country to report the disease after Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Egypt. It has already started culling poultry in the area where the virus was discovered.

While mainly affecting animals, scientists fear the disease could mutate into a form that could pass between humans, causing a pandemic.

According to the World Health Organisation, the virus has killed 109 people, most of them in Asia and involving people who had close contact with infected birds.


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