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Lake Victoria likely bird flu entry point

Thursday April 2 2009

Lake Victoria. Western Kenya could be the entry point for bird flu in the country because of Lake Victoria’s attraction to migratory birds, health experts have warned. Photo/FILE

Lake Victoria. Western Kenya could be the entry point for bird flu in the country because of Lake Victoria’s attraction to migratory birds, health experts have warned. Photo/FILE 

By ABIUD OCHIENG’

Western Kenya could be the entry point for bird flu in the country because of Lake Victoria’s attraction to migratory birds, health experts have warned.

Dr Stephen Kiama, the associate dean of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Nairobi said that migratory birds that flock to the lake from areas where the disease had been reported was a cause for concern.

He said wild birds were a suspected source of the flu and where they congregate in large numbers, like at Lake Victoria, there was the risk that poultry might get infected and pass on the virus to human beings.

Highly contagious

He said the region was also the most vulnerable as most of Kenya’s neighbours do not have sufficient mechanisms to contain the virus.

“The recent outbreak of avian influenza in Sudan has left Kenya vulnerable to the virus due to the porous border with that country,” Dr Kiama said in Maseno.

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The highly contagious bird flu has killed 150 million chickens and more than 70 people around the world, mainly in South East Asia, in the past four years.

Since the virus was detected in Sudan, health experts in Kenya have been on a campaign to sensitise poultry farmers on bio-security, surveillance and response strategies against avian influenza.

Bio-security entails teaching farmers how to maintain disease-free farms and how to avoid its spread should there be an outbreak.

Dr Stephen Otieno Orot, Nyanza provincial director of veterinary services, said poultry farmers were also being enlightened on the various misconceptions most farmers had about bird flu.

“Some farmers have made huge losses after con men convinced them to sell their poultry cheaply, claiming avian flu would wipe all of them out. But we are educating farmers that the virus can be controlled if detected on time,” said Dr Orot.

He said the virus could be contracted when people come into contact with infected poultry, contrary to popular belief that it can only be caught by eating infected meat.

Dr Orot said poultry farmers were being advised not to build chicken houses close to homes.

He said an outbreak would be a big blow to the country’s robust poultry industry.