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BAHA on top of Avian influenza situation: Ministries of Health, Agriculture hoping for low losses to avert chicken shortages

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Posted: Thursday, September 22, 2022. 9:47 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: Experts at the Belize Agriculture Health Authority (BAHA) and authorities in the Ministriy of Health and Wellness, and the Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Enterprise continue to closely monitor an outbreak of avian influenza detected in the Orange Walk District chicken farms.

Initial test results located a form of bird flu in samples taken from Blue Creek and Shipyard farms. But follow-up tests by the Belize Agricultural Health Authority (BAHA) in samples collected afterwards failed to detect any trace of the virus and samples sent to a laboratory in Ames, Iowa, United States uncovered antibodies for, but no traces of, the virus.

Thus far, the virus appears to be mild with a low mortality rate, limited to a total of eight farms, two of which have been depopulated and six remaining under quarantine.

Director of Animal Health at BAHA, Doctor Miguel Depaz, details what will happen next: “… BAHA along with the Belize Poultry Association and the Ministry of Agriculture, we are modifying the strategy now that we know it is pointing towards low pathogenicity of the virus. And there are other measures. I did mention movement control. There will be disinfection of the hatchery, and cleaning and disinfection of those positive barns. And if you want to move birds, you need a permit from BAHA. For us to issue those permits, the birds would have had to test negative for Avian Influenza….” He added that a total of 29,500 birds have been slaughtered from three farms including 1,500 “layers” – that is, producers of eggs.

As for the human risk, the Ministry of Health and Wellness, which sits on the task force that has been put together to address the issue, confirmed today that the virus cannot be transmitted to humans through poultry that is slaughtered and cooked, and that the chicken is safe for consumption. Principal Public Health Inspector John Bodden explains that those most at risk if traces of the virus are found in the so-called “sentinel birds” deployed to each quarantined farm are the workers who handle them, and the virus cannot be transmitted to and through humans.

Bodden also added that if for some reason meat from infected birds gets through, cooking it thoroughly removes the virus. Genetic sequencing must take place to find out which type of virus is spreading but as the name suggests, the symptoms are similar to regular influenza and you can be vaccinated for it. So far, according to Bodden, none of the poultry workers has indicated that there is any infection transmitted to them.

But the producers in the northern villages are feeling the pain – because they will expect to have major financial losses. Already, losses from the depopulated farms amount to more than half a million dollars, according to Belize Poultry Association Manager Armando Cowo. While Cowo says that the producers in Spanish Lookout can supply the market demand and there will be no shortage for the moment, the Caribbean Chicken plant in Blue Creek will be closed for decontamination for at least three weeks. He added that any change in prices for chicken and eggs will mostly be driven by the price of grain which is currently being harvested, as well as imports of necessary additives and fertilizers. He expects that by the first week in December – as the rush for locally produced chicken and turkey for Christmas begins – things will more or less be back to normal.

 

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