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Ghana Armed Forces educate members on H5N1 Avian Influenza outbreak

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The Management of Ghana Armed Forces (GAF) on Thursday organized an education forum to sensitize its members on the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) outbreak in poultry and human beings.

Commodore Roland Sowa, the Director General of Medical Services of GAF, said the HPAI is caused by H5N1 in animal population, particularly in birds, including domestic poultry, such as chickens and ducks, which poses a global health threat.

Commodore Sowa said the programme was necessary because of the cases recorded in the past years. The first cases of H1N1 were reported in Ghana in 2007. A number of cases have also been reported in the past couple of weeks.

He said widespread keeping of local poultry, backyard and commercial poultry farms in military barracks and the involvement of Ghanaian troops in international peacekeeping and peace support operations put troops and families at an increased risk.

Commodore Sowa said the Veterinary Service of GAF, with support from the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research (NMIMR), would tour the Garrisons to educate troops and families on the pandemic flu.

He said during the visits, personnel from NMIMR would collect samples from birds for flu virus surveillance.

Mr Kofi Bonny, Chief Research Scientist at the NMIMR, said studies on the pandemic revealed that majority of human cases acquired their infection through direct contact with infected live or dead poultry.

Mr Bonny said the outbreak of the virus began in Asia in mid-2003 and to date had been accompanied by over 120 confirmed human cases of which more than half had died.

Mr Bonny said the virus survived in contaminated raw poultry meat and could be spread through the marketing and distribution of contaminated food products such as fresh or frozen meat.

He said there was no epidemiological evidence that people had become infected through the consumption of contaminated poultry meat that had been properly cooked.

Mr Bonny said the practices of home slaughtering, de-feathering and eviscerating, related to the marketing of live birds, created opportunities for further and extensive exposure to potentially contaminated parts of poultry.

He said recent studies of traditional practices had shown that public health education campaigns about the disease and measures for protection had reached rural people, who were at the greatest risk of acquiring the infection.

Mr Bonny appealed to individuals to wash their hands regularly with soap and clean water and also sneeze into a handkerchief since the disease could be spread through air.

Dr Richard Suu-ire, Wildlife Medical Specialist, said there was the need for surveillance of birds since it involved going to the field to look for the disease.

Dr Suu-ire said there were passive and active surveillance of birds for avian influenza.

He said the passive surveillance dealt with records when people sent their birds to the laboratory for post-mortem while the active surveillance touched on sending government officers to the farms to look for the diseases.

Source: GNA

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