UAE to review surveillance regarding bird flu cases

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Dubai, Dec 25 (UNI) UAE authorities are likely to review and update the bird flu surveillance programmes in the country in view of the fresh cases reported in countries like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia recently.

The National Committee for emergency response to Bird Flu was keeping close tabs on the developments taking place in these countries that have direct links with the UAE while the local committee for bird flu surveillance in Dubai would meet tomorrow to review the situation, The Gulf Today reported.

Over 200 people from various countries have died from the H5N1 strain of the avian influenza virus which began plaguing Asian poultry stocks in late 2003. It remains hard for people to catch, but scientists worry it could mutate into a form that spreads easily among people, potentially sparking a pandemic.

Officials associated with the bird flu response system in the UAE maintain that the country was fully prepared for a pandemic-like situation with the comprehensive National Contingency Plan for Bird Flu already in place.

They also believed the UAE was not likely to be affected by the developments in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia due to the existing strategies.

However, sources said the UAE's close association with these countries would prompt the officials to evaluate and update the national surveillance programme, especially in view of the recent alert issued by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The WHO had last week warned that countries should be on alert for bird flu as it was again on the move in many Asian countries. With fresh poultry outbreaks reported in a number of countries, the WHO urged nations to be vigilant in identifying and reporting cases in both birds and humans.

Director of Public Health in Dubai Municipality and the Chairman of the local committee for bird flu surveillance in Dubai, Salem Bin Mesmar, told The Gulf Today the committee was scheduled to meet tomorrow to review the situation.

Officials from Dubai Municipality, Department of Health and Medical Services, Dubai Police, Dubai Civil Defence, Dubai Customs and Dubai Ports Authority would participate in the meeting which would be attended by representatives from the National Committee for Emergency Response to Bird Flu.

Mr Mesmar said dedicated staffers in the local committee, who monitor the bird flu scenario across the world on a regular basis, would prepare the agenda for the meeting. ''The members from various authorities in Dubai would be informed about the updates in the situation and the steps to be taken by them,'' he added.

Director of Public Health Department in the Department of Health and Medical Services Dr Ali Al Marzouki said that there was no need to be worried about the return of Hajj pilgrims as they were unlikely to have caught any bird flu from Saudi Arabia.

He, however, said that many pilgrims were likely to have caught common flu and upper respiratory infections. On the chances of Hajjis catching meningitis from Saudi Arabia, Dr Marzouki said that all the pilgrims had been vaccinated against meningitis before they set for Hajj. ''They were also given one shot of antibiotics before entering the country. So, we hope that the risk is very less. However, we are vigilant against such cases,'' he concluded.


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