ISLAMABAD/PESHAWAR, Feb 28: The federal health minister said here on Tuesday that health and agriculture ministries had formed special teams to check poultry stock throughout the country to counter potential bird flu threat.
Mohammad Nasir Khan also said that Pakistan had procured 10,000 doses of Tamiflu and the World Health Organisation had promised a steady supply of the drug to combat any bird flu outbreak.
Meanwhile, a team of the WHO epidemiologists visited Charsadda and Abbottabad and collected blood samples of people working in poultry farms which were isolated on Monday following reports of cases of avian flu.
The WHO team also collected samples of slaughtered chickens which would be tested at the National Institute of Health in Islamabad to determine if they were infected by H5NI and H7N3 strains of bird flu virus which may be transmitted to humans.
Official sources confirmed that the WHO team, which is accompanied by Dr Najib Durrani of the ministry of health, started collecting blood samples of poultry workers and samples of chickens from different poultry farms in the NWFP.
During their visits, the team held brief meetings with the executive district officers, health, and persuaded poultry farm owners to voluntarily cull the remaining chickens in their farms, WHO’s technical officer Behramand Khan told Dawn.
“The team collected blood samples of eight poultry workers. They will be tested for bird flu infection,” he added.
He said that some poultry workers in Charsadda suffered from cough and there was a possibility that they might develop flu because of the spray of different kinds of drugs in the farms.
He said that the WHO team had also collected details about the voluntary culling of poultry stock carried out on Monday. He said that poultry workers had been asked to use precautions while slaughtering and dumping birds.
Meanwhile, the health directorate in Peshawar issued a press release which confirmed the prevalence of H5 virus in birds culled in some poultry farms in Charsadda and Abbottabad. However, it did not confirm speculations about the virus contaminating other poultry farms.
It also informed that an emergency had been declared in all government hospitals and as a precautionary measure, special wards had been allocated for treating patients infected by the virus.
A special cell had been set up at the provincial health directorate to work with different health departments, the press release said. It cautioned against shifting chickens or other birds during a flap of bird flu or influenza.
It directed everyone attached with the poultry industry to follow guidelines outlining measures to protect them from the virus.
It also warned hobbyists and domestic owners of chickens and other birds to refrain from petting them and to be cautious while handling their solid wastes.
It called for strictly keeping children away from chickens and other pet birds.
Director of the Veterinary Institute in Peshawar Dr Saadullah Jan told this correspondent that the number of chicken so far culled in the two farms in Charsadda and Abbottabad was 26,000.
In Islamabad, the federal minister for health said that health and agriculture ministries had formed special teams to check the extent of the occurrence of avian flu virus in poultry stock.
He was talking to reporters after launching the “National Plan of Action for the Control of Micronutrient Malnutrition in Pakistan” on Tuesday.
The minister said that the teams would submit reports on a daily basis.
Mr Nasir Khan said arrangements had also been made to meet any emergency, including quarantine units in all state-run hospitals in case of a bird flu outbreak.
The government, he said, had detected H5 strain of the virus in the two poultry farms in the NWFP that was not harmful but there was no confirmation if it was combined with the N1 strain yet, the minister said.
The government had sealed off the poultry farms where avian flu virus was reported, he said, adding that samples had been sent to the World Reference Laboratory in the UK for confirming the presence of N-type virus. “The report is likely to be received by this evening (Tuesday) and in the light of the report we will take the necessary action,” he added.
About 10,000 doses of Tamiflu had been procured and stocked with the National Institute of Health and Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (Pims), Mr Nasir Khan said, adding that the World Health Organization had ensured arranging a steady supply of the medicine in case of bird-flu outbreak.
“The prime minister and I regularly eat chicken at lunch,” the minister said, adding that people should eat chicken after properly cooking it.
Meanwhile, sources told Dawn that a few months ago bird flu had been detected in poultry farms on the outskirts of Rawalpindi during a survey conducted by the Punjab Poultry Department.
A report had been submitted to the ministry of health and other departments concerned but no action was taken, the sources said, adding that teams of the department had found the birds suffering from flu, reddish eyes and runny nose.