Bird flu strain weaker than earlier feared – says health ministry

The ministry of health says it has brought the bird flu outbreak under control

Laboratory tests conducted by experts at the Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI) have revealed that a weaker version of the avian influenza (H5N8) killed domestic as well as wild birds along the shores of lake Victoria in recent weeks.

The revelation could be a source of reassurance among consumers, tourists and members of the general public especially after it had been reported that a more virulent strain of avian influenza – the H5N1 strain had broken out. The ministry of health says no human cases have been reported anywhere in the world for the H5N8 strain. Its more deadly relative, the H5N1 strain killed at least 440 people between 2003 and 2015 in 16 countries across the world including Egypt and Nigeria.

A statement signed by the acting Director General of Health Services Dr. Anthony Mbonye said laboratory results from the Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI) confirmed the presence of the H5N8 strain of the avian influenza in all samples collected, both in domestic and wild migratory birds.

“The H5N8 is a subtype of the influenza A virus (called bird flu virus). H5N8 is considered one of the less pathogenic subtypes for humans and no human cases have been confirmed in the past.”

The ministry however cautioned the public to remain vigilant in order to prevent transmission from birds to humans.

Dr. Mbonye outlined measures which members of the public need to observe in order to help contain the outbreak.
These include;

  • Avoiding the handling of dead birds or slaughtering sick poultry or wild birds.
  • Ensuring that all poultry products are thoroughly cooked before consumption. The virus is sensitive to heat.
  • Ensuring that if someone who handles poultry or birds develops a fever, he/she reports to the nearest health unit for management.
  • Reporting any sudden death of poultry or birds to the district veterinary officer or health officer, or perhaps the village health team members, especially if the following characteristics are observed;
  1. Sudden death without any signs
  2. Lack of coordination
  3. purple discolouration of the wattles, combs and legs
  4. Soft-shelled or misshapen eggs
  5. Lack of energy and appetite
  6. Diarrhoea
  7. Swelling of the head, eyelids, comb, wattles and hocks.

The ministry used the latest laboratory findings to appeal to the general public to remain calm saying that experts are working tirelessly to contain the outbreak.

The ministry has earmarked three telephone contacts to be used to report any cases; these are 0800203033, 0772-504746, 0772584598.

Henry Lutaaya is The Editor of The Sunrise, a Weekly Publication with a bias towards covering stories of social, economic impact with the view to transforming Uganda’s economy.
He is also acting as the Treasurer of USJA
He can be reached on henrylutaaya[at]gmail.com
hlutaaya[at]usja.ug
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