Friday, June 15, 2007

Poultry Industry Gets Nervous About 'Invisible' Bird Flu

World Poultry has run a short update on the 'invisible' bird flu strain now infecting chickens in Indonesia, where some bird have been found to be infected with H5N1, but are not ill, and show no outward symptoms of infection :
Indonesia has found traces of the highly pathogenic bird flu in healthy-looking poultry. This creates a major obstacle in detecting the disease.

Clinical signs of bird flu range from respiratory distress to coughing and sneezing, to dead chickens. If no clinical signs can be observed – asymptomatic chickens - the risks of the virus spreading are much higher, which also means that humans can become more easily infected with bird flu due to the virus's ability to adapt to new environments and hosts.

"The poultry death rate is not so high, but there is a trend that chicken or poultry are infected by the virus but they don't die," says Musny Suatmodjo, director of animal health.

Hong Kong-based researchers have also detected such "asymptomatic" chickens and other poultry in mainland Chinese markets in recent years, which they believe were responsible for most of the H5N1 human infections there.

Taking into account reports yesterday that Indonesia's 80th bird flu victim died after eating infected chicken meat, the 'invisible bird flu' development means that entire poultry stocks will need to be regularly tested, or vaccinated, and poultry meat will have to undergo more rigorous inspections and testing before it reaches the marketplace, particularly in countries like Indonesia where H5N1 is already at epidemic levels in bird populations.

Should a wave of human bird flu deaths as a result of eating infected poultry, poultry that showed no symptomatic signs of infection by the virus, the impact on domestic poultry sales, and exports, will be devastating.

The largest poultry companies around the world have mounted aggressive PR and marketing campaigns, costing tens of millions of dollars, to ensure consumers that they cannot become infected with the H5N1 virus from eating chicken or duck meat. A usual added proviso is that the meat is safe if "properly cooked".

In early 2006, Vietnam mounted a huge poster and advertising campaign warning poultry consumers that they needed to boil poultry meat until it was yellow before it should be considered safe to eat.

There has been at least three deaths believed to have resulted from eating infected poultry in as many months.

Marketing and PR alone will not assure the public this food product is safe if deaths continue.

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