By Julia Rawlins-Bentham
BRIDGETOWN, Barbados -- The importation of live birds, poultry and poultry products into Barbados from Mexico has been banned with immediate effect.
This action has been taken by the Veterinary Services Department of the Ministry of Agriculture following a major outbreak of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) H7N3, commonly referred to as bird flu, in the Western state of Jalisco, Mexico.
Senior veterinary officer with the department, Dr Mark Trotman, has also advised that until the full extent of the outbreak becomes known, Barbados' Veterinary Services will consider the entire country of Mexico affected with HPAI.
In addition, border control officials, including Veterinary and Plant Quarantine, Port Health and Customs, will be notified to exercise vigilance on shipments of products originating from Mexico.
Key stakeholders will also be sensitised through public awareness bulletins and meetings as deemed necessary, while emergency response plans will be reviewed and updated as needed.
Trotman explained that the Animal Health Authority of Mexico reported a major outbreak of the bird flu in June, and the country's government declared a national animal health emergency on July 3.
That emergency declaration also includes provisions for continued surveillance, quarantine, slaughter, vaccination and the destruction of infected products.
The senior veterinary officer said Barbados did not import poultry or poultry products from Mexico, and did not anticipate that the detection of the disease in Mexico would pose any significant threat or extensive impact on trade.
However, he pointed out that because the extent of trade in poultry products and vaccines between Mexico and other Caribbean territories was unknown, Barbados was taking all necessary precautions.
Clinical signs of highly pathogenic avian influenza include listlessness; drooping wings; conjunctivitis; a drop in egg production, sometimes with pale, misshapen or thin-shelled eggs; respiratory signs such as gasping; diarrhea; uncoordination; a marked drop in feed and or water consumption; or swollen heads, combs, wattles and legs. There is also usually a marked increase in the number of birds dying.
Although there is a constant low risk for the introduction of avian influenza or other serious diseases of poultry into Barbados, it is important that farmers keep vigilant and report any suspect cases to the Veterinary Services or to their veterinarian.
An early diagnosis and rapid response to an outbreak is crucial to successful control, while maintaining biosecurity on farms is paramount. Basic measures include restricting access by visitors to the farm; keeping wild birds away; using disinfectant foot baths when entering the bird houses; and the regular cleaning and disinfection of all vehicles, tools, equipment, clothes and hands before and after use.
To date, 305 farms in Mexico were sampled, with 33 testing positive, 106 testing negative, and diagnosis ongoing on 166 farms. In addition, 3.8 million birds have been slaughtered and destroyed out of an affected population of 9.3 million birds.
Trotman also noted that there were about 17 million birds at risk in Mexico, with 60 percent being layers, 24.6 percent being broilers, 6.9 percent breeders and 8.5 percent backyard poultry.
He added that the disease presently caused death in 10.58 percent of birds in an affected flock, while 39 percent of birds that become infected die.
A vaccination programme has been initiated in the affected state, which includes vaccines from domestic and international sources.