FAO's concern for Asia after H1N1 virus hits Chilean turkeys

Related tags Influenza Fao

The detection of a H1N1 virus in turkeys in Chile poses no threat to the food supply chain but does raise concerns that poultry farms elsewhere in the world could become infected with the pandemic, said the FAO.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation issued the warning after Chilean authorities reported on August 20 that the pandemic virus H1N1/2009 had been discovered at two farms near the port of Valparaiso. This is the fourth such spill-over of the virus from farm workers showing flu-like illness to animals – following swine becoming infected in Canada, Argentina and, most recently, Australia.

Economic impact

The body said that while clinical infections in animals had been “generally mild”​ it warned “the establishment of pandemic H1N1 virus in pig and poultry farms has the potential to bring about negative economic consequences such as trade related restrictions and misguided perceptions of the quality and safety of meat products​”.

The UN body confirmed the flu strain found in the poultry flocks in the South American country is identical to the H1N1 strain currently rife in human populations across the globe.

No threat to food chain

The FAO stressed that the detection of the virus in turkeys did not pose any immediate threat to human health and turkey meat could still be sold commercially in the wake of veterinary inspections and hygienic processing.

Juan Lubroth chief veterinary officer for the FAO, said: “The reaction of the Chilean authorities to the discovery of H1N1 in turkeys — namely prompt reporting to international organisations, establishing a temporary quarantine, and the decision to allow infected birds to recover rather than culling them — is scientifically sound.

Once the sick birds have recovered, safe production and processing can continue. They do not pose a threat to the food chain”.

Bird flu combination hazard

The body said the current virus, which is a mixture of human, pig and bird genes, is no more deadly than common strains. But FAO experts cautioned that it could “theoretically”​ become more dangerous if “it adds virulence by combining with H5N1, commonly known as avian flu, which is far more deadly but harder to pass along among humans”.

Lubroth also warned that if the H1N1 virus was to mix with the H1N5 bird flu virus the consequences could be more serious.

“Chile does not have H5N1 flu,”​ he said. “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,”

The FAO said boosting the monitoring of health among animals and ensuring that hygienic and good practices and guidelines were followed was vital. This included keeping animals and workers apart and protected if either group were ill.

“We must monitor the situation in animals more closely and strengthen veterinary services in poor and in-transition countries. They need adequate diagnostic capability and competent and suitably resourced field teams that can respond to emergency needs,’" ​said Lubroth.

Related topics Food safety

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