Deadly H5N1 Bird Flu Virus Finally Reaches Pakistan

Islamabad on Tuesday confirmed the first cases of the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu at two poultry farms in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province (NWFP), after receiving positive test results from the European Union's (EU) Reference Laboratory for Avian Influenza in the UK.

“The laboratory has confirmed the presence of the H5N1 virus at the two farms but we had already completely sealed the farms and destroyed all the [chicken] stocks there. But there is no need to panic - there are no reports of any bird flu cases detected in other parts of the country,” Muhammad Afzal, a spokesman for the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock, said in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.

Another suspected outbreak in the southern city of Hyderabad, where 2,000 dead chickens were found on a rubbish tip last week, has not been confirmed. “Samples from some other areas [including Hyderabad] were also sent to Britain, but were negative,” Afzal added.

As many as 25,000 chickens were destroyed in late February at two poultry farms in the Abbotabad and Charsadda districts of NWFP after initial tests pointed to the presence of the mild H5 strain of avian influenza. Subsequently, samples were sent to the UK to determine if it was the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain of the disease.

Last week tests confirmed H5N1 in poultry across the border in Afghanistan, while the virus has also been detected in neighbouring India, Iran and China.

As part of preventive measures, Islamabad has banned the import of poultry products and birds from more than 30 countries where cases of bird flu have been reported. In addition, the hunting of birds has also been banned across the country to prevent the killing of infected migratory birds.

A countrywide public awareness campaign involving newspapers and electronic media is already under way to ease growing fears about avian flu and the use of poultry products.