Avian influenza viruses continue to pose threats to human and animal health, and vigilance is necessary to prevent their spread through the food chain, officials at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) say in a warning issued last month in advance of the upcoming flu season.
Avian flu virus strains, including H5N1 and H7N9 viruses, continue to circulate in birds, and the FAO and other organizations devoted to human and animal health are supporting heightened efforts to prevent spread of these viruses through the food chain in the peak flu season, from November through February.
“Poultry infected with the new avian influenza virus, H7N9, show little to no clinical signs of illness. This means the virus is harder to detect. China has worked to contain the situation and provide information to the international community. As for FAO, through its own funding and with support from the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Organization is helping increase surveillance capacities to better detect and respond to this new virus should it infect poultry populations in other countries,” says Juan Lubroth, DVM, PhD, chief veterinary officer for FAO, in a statement provided to Food Quality & Safety. This is in addition to surveillance for the H5N1 strain and other circulating flu viruses, he adds.
Because most avian flu viruses are transmitted through saliva, nasal secretions, and feces, compliance with hygiene standards must be promoted at critical points along the food chain from production to consumption, says Jean-Michel Poirson, DVM, senior officer for the FAO’s Emergency Prevention Service – Food Safety.
“These critical points include poultry farms, live bird markets, slaughterhouses, and wherever poultry meat is prepared for consumption. Good hygiene, handling, and preparation practices can guard against avian influenza viruses as well as other threats,” Poirson says.
Proper implementation of HACCP, good manufacturing practices, and good hygiene practices at processing facilities is the best way to ensure that food products are safe and free from avian flu viruses and other contaminants, he says.
Adds Dr. Lubroth, “Compliance with internationally agreed standards is the main way countries like the United States can protect their populations from avian influenza viruses and other disease threats. Government animal and human health sectors must work together to detect viruses and implement risk mitigation efforts. This is especially true in resource-poor countries where compliance with such standards is a serious challenge.”
The FAO’s Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific announced on September 18 the launch of two emergency projects to contain the H7N9 avian flu virus in that region. The projects will promote coordinated preparedness, surveillance, and response to H7N9 in poultry and other animal populations in Asian countries at risk, according to the FAO, and will assist countries in the region to better detect, control, and respond to the virus.