12 March 2006
Cameroon reports H5N1 near Nigerian border as WHO Director- General outlines steps to limit H5N1 spread in Africa
On Sunday, March 12, the Associated Press reported that the government of Cameroon reported on state radio that the H5N1 avian influenza virus has been found in a duck on a farm in the northern part of the country near the border with Nigeria. If confirmed, Cameroon would become the 4th African nation with the H5N1 virus, following Nigeria, Niger, and Egypt over the past month. Human infections will be diagnosed in the future in Africa, as have over 175 patients previously identified by lab-testing from East and SE Asia, Iraq and Turkey.
The Cameroon government reported that the virological identification of the virus as H5N1 had occurred at a reference laboratory in Paris, France. A second media report, by Reuters (South Africa), quoted France’s RFI radio as reporting that the Pasteur Institute in Paris identified the virus as H5N1 and also reported that it was isolated from a duck. Reuters cited the Cameroon English-language state radio as reporting that young chicks in the northern town of Maria may have been infected with H5N1 virus as well. Reuters also reported that 1,000 dead one-day old chicks had been found dumped near administrative offices in Morgue.
On Thursday, March 9th, the WHO Director-General, Dr. LEE Jong-Wook, announced during a trip to Madagascar, Mauritius, and Kenya that African nations must take action to limit the spread of H5N1 in animals and the risk of infecting humans. Among these actions he included:
One: Identify, confirm and rapidly report H5N1 in bird; then act to stop the outbreaks, including by “on-the-spot” cash compensation to backyard poultry owners.
Two: Identify, confirm, and treat people infected with H5N1 virus.
Three: Collect, examine, and share H5N1 specimens to determine mutations in the virus that might allow the onset of a human pandemic, and to develop better vaccines. All nations must have both an avian influenza and a human pandemic influenza preparedness plan.
The WHO Director-General went on to congratulate Kenya for its very proactive role in influenza preparedness, including participating in both the November 2005 meeting in Geneva and the January 2006 influenza meeting in Beijing. He also emphasized the vulnerability of Africa given its “already overburdened health care systems”. In addition, he cited the fact that “We do not know, for example, what kind of an impact a pandemic influenza virus would have on people who are already immunosuppressed as a result of HIV”.
The USA and other willing partners in the international community should immediately take action to support the preparedness and response needs of nations in Africa to prevent and control the further spread of H5N1 avian influenza across the continent. A failure to seize this initiative now means that the H5N1 virus will become widely endemic in Africa and thus more deadly, more economically ominous, and much more difficult, if not impossible, to prevent and control.
Lessons from the past quarter century of global experience with another virus, HIV, and its AIDS/SIDA pandemic, as well as the spread of H5N1 influenza across Asia into Europe and Africa over the past three years, should make perfectly transparent the need for such immediate action by the USA and international partners.
Daniel R. Lucey, MD, MPH
Director, Center for Biologic Counterterrorism and Emerging Diseases
ER One Institutes, Washington Hospital Center
Co-Director, Master of Science Program, Biohazardous Threat Agents and Emerging Infectious Diseases, Georgetown Medical School, Washington, DC