Destructive bird flu virus detected in Kenya for first time

By Gatonye Gathura

A bird flu virus similar to the one which killed 4,225 chicken in Ghana last year and led to the destruction of 12,597 others has been detected in Kenya for the first time.

A report published by Kenya’s agriculture ministry and the US Department of Agriculture on 18th October 2019 warns the virus presents a new threat to the poultry sector as well as to human health.

“This is the first reported detection of H9N2 LPAIV in Kenya and it was shown to be infectious and transmissible in chickens by direct contact. It represents a new disease threat to poultry and potentially to people’ said the study appearing in the journal of Infection, Genetics, and Evolution.

This virus, with low infection rates, has been reported in various parts of the world including North and West Africa but only in Uganda in East Africa.

Analysis of the Kenyan isolates, the report says showed a high similarity with those from neighbouring Uganda.

“We can speculate the virus introduction into Kenya was by poultry trade or illegal movement,” says the study by the State Department of Livestock, Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries, and Irrigation.

In chicken, the report says infections can result in mild to severe respiratory disease. It can also cause substantial economic losses due to decreased egg production, high rates of illness with death of about 20 percent of infected birds.

In humans, infections are few and mild but the report warns this could change. The strain discovered in Kenya, the report says is only one of two H9N2 types known to infect humans.

The researchers also involving the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization and the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil, had tested 282 chicken samples collected from Nairobi and Kilifi counties.

In Kilifi, the samples were collected from 33 backyard poultry farms while in Nairobi they were picked from Mutindwa, Kariobangi-North, Kawangware, Burma, Kangemi, and Kariokor live bird markets.

Of the total, eight samples turned positive for the H9N2 virus, seven of which had been collected at Kariobangi-North and one from Kangemi markets. There were no positives in all the samples collected from Kilifi poultry farms.

All the H9N2 positive birds from Kariobangi-North had originally been purchased by the traders from Machakos, while the bird from Kangemi had been sourced from Nairobi.

The detection of the virus the report says is a rallying call to take necessary control measures by “stamping out, movement restriction, and enforcement of biosecurity measures.”

Stamping out or killing of infected chicken is considered the first line of defense in countries without a prior history of the virus-like Kenya.

In recent times this has happened in Korea, Russia and Ghana with enormous economic losses.

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