The Avian and Human Influenza National Task Force Secretariat (AHI-NTF) last Saturday schooled Journalists on Communication for the Prevention and control of the highly pathogenic Avian and Human Influenza.
Addressing them at the Grassroots Gender Empowerment Centre at John Street, Acting Assistant Director Animal Health, Dr Mohamed Barrie said that Avian influenza (bird flu) is a viral disease normally affecting birds adding that it is highly contagious and when contracted, some domestic birds, including chicken, ducks and turkeys, become sick and die.
He added that these types of bird flu viruses do not usually affect humans but as of 1997 in Asia (Thailand) the disease is now affecting humans and many people have died. Dr Barrie explained that the disease is caused by the H5N1 virus strain and it is transmitted from infected birds through food, droppings, water and direct air contact. He further explained that humans get the disease through direct contact with body fluids or blood of the infected birds during preparation of poultry food; direct contact with droppings of infected birds and through handling of infected birds especially humans involved in marketing of poultry and its products.
“The transmission from human to human has not yet been established”, he said.
Explaining how avian influenza is spread within a country, Dr Barrie reiterated that the disease spread easily from farm to farm, adding that large amounts of virus are present in bird droppings, contaminated utensils and air.
The Acting Assistant Director Animal Health, stated that the high risk behaviors includes eating eggs and poultry meat that are not well cooked; using raw eggs as an ingredient in food not well cooked or baked; preparation of sick or dead poultry for food; sleeping with birds in the same house and walking bare footed in soil contaminated with poultry waste.
Dr Barrie maintained that presently there is no treatment for poultry, adding that sick chickens, ducks, turkeys should be killed and buried and houses properly disinfected in order to prevent the spread of the disease.
In his presentation, Health Education Officer, Health Division, Lansana Conteh said that clinical signs and symptoms of the disease in poultry includes: little or no food intake, ruffle feathers, staggering gait, birds sit or stand in a semi-comatose or sleepy state with head touching the ground; manifestation of neurological signs like paralysis, profuse diarrhea, bleeding on comb, wattles, and death.
He explained that signs and symptoms of the disease in human includes, high fever, breathing difficulties, sore throat, headache, cough, catarrh, body pains, bleeding nose and gums, diarrhea and death. Mr Conteh stated that the public can help prevent the spread of the disease through: keeping their children away from sick or dead poultry and wild birds; washing hands with soap and water always after touching poultry, and wild birds or their meat, cook poultry or wild bird’s, and take sick birds to the nearest health or veterinary facility or local authority and to educate people on the prevention of bird flu at the mosques, churches, schools, barrays and market places. The Health Education Officer pointed out that cumulative number of confirmed human cases of Avian Influenza reported to World Health Organisation (WHO) on 9th April 2010 indicates that 493 cases have been reported with 292 deaths in 15 countries excluding Sierra Leone. In his short presentation on the roles and responsibilities of Journalists on Avian Influenza information dissemination, Brima Karl Samura said that Journalists are seen as vital actors in the prevention and control of the disease. He added that, they serve as eye, nose and ears for the general public, adding that their role is to enhance public safety through responsible reporting.
By Abibatu Kamara