U.N. FAO warns of bird flu viruses in upcoming flu season

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Agency issued a warning on Monday that bird flu viruses continue to pose a serious threat to health and could pose a greater risk this flu season. Juan Lubroth, the chief veterinary officer of the FAO, made the remarks during a joint meetings with the U.S. Agency for International Development, the World Health Organization and the World Organisation for Animal Health. "Bird flu viruses continue to circulate in poultry," Lubroth said. "Efforts must continue and be strengthened, not only in affected countries, but also in neighboring states and areas with strong trade linkages." Lubroth said that while the world is more prepared than ever to respond to H7N9 and H5N1 influenza viruses, countries must stay vigilant to detect outbreaks. "This is especially true for H7N9 since it causes no clinical signs in birds and is therefore very difficult to detect in poultry," Lubroth said. The FAO committed $2 million in emergency funding supplemented by more than $5 million from USAID to prepare for H7N9 response efforts. The support from USAID helped FAO to aid at-risk countries in their surveillance capability. "Several at-risk countries previously unable to pick up the virus can now accurately detect H7N9," Lubroth said. "Identifying the virus with consistency is critical to targeting control efforts and reducing spread." Lubroth said that in the short-term, surveillance is key to helping countries detect the virus. In the longer-term, he said that countries should invest in improving how they market and sell poultry. "We need keep our eyes on the bigger picture of promoting healthy food systems, especially when it comes to animal production and marketing," Lubroth said. "Restructuring can create healthier, safer markets by developing facilities that employ proper food safety and hygiene measures. Since animals, and therefore viruses, are inevitably gathered at markets, keeping these markets clean and safe reduces the chances for viruses and other pathogens to spread."