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H1N1 flu in turkeys cause for concern: FAO

Gargi Parsai

NEW DELHI: The detection of H1N1 virus in turkeys in Chile has raised concerns about poultry farms elsewhere in the world also becoming infected with the pandemic flu virus, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said on Thursday.

Chilean authorities last week reported the presence of the pandemic H1N1/2009 virus in turkeys in two farms near the seaport of Valparaiso. The flu strain found in the poultry flocks was identical to the H1N1/2009 pandemic strain currently circulating among human populations around the world.

However, the discovery of the virus in turkeys did not pose any immediate threat to human health and turkey meat could still be sold commercially after veterinary inspection and hygienic processing. “Once the sick birds have recovered, safe production and processing can continue. They do not pose a threat to the food chain,” said FAO’s interim Chief Veterinary Officer, Juan Lubroth.

“The reaction of the Chilean authorities to the discovery of H1N1 in turkeys — prompt reporting to international organisations, establishing a temporary quarantine, and the decision to allow infected birds to recover rather than culling them — was scientifically sound,” he said.

The current H1N1 virus strain was a mixture of human, pig and bird genes and had proved to be very contagious but no more deadly than common seasonal flu viruses. However, it could theoretically become more dangerous if it added virulence by combining with H5N1, commonly known as avian flu, which was far more deadly but harder to pass along among humans, the FAO said.

“Chile does not have H5N1 flu. In South-East Asia, where there is a lot of the virus circulating in poultry, the introduction of H1N1 in these populations would be of a greater concern,” said Dr Lubroth.

That was why FAO encouraged improved monitoring of health among animals and ensuring that hygienic and good farming practice guidelines were followed, including protecting farm workers if animals were sick. “We must monitor the situation in animals more closely and strengthen veterinary services in poor and in-transition countries.”

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