Officials Intensify Efforts To Check Spread Of Bird Flu

RIYADH/ABHA, 26 November 2007 — Attempts to smuggle six truckloads of live birds into Riyadh during the last four days have been thwarted by the municipality.

In the campaign against bird flu, the municipality also declared the city off-limits to vehicles carrying live birds. Several government agencies, including the ministries of agriculture and health, have intensified efforts to check the spread of the disease.

Soliman Hamad Al-Buthi, a municipality spokesman, said yesterday, “Our inspection teams have impounded trucks loaded with chickens which were subsequently culled.” He called on the public to report cases of unlicensed shops operating under unhygienic conditions.

Al-Buthi, who heads the municipality’s environmental health department, said all efforts were being exerted to keep Riyadh safe. The Ministry of Agriculture, he said, had also imposed a ban on the import of live birds into the Kingdom and had also banned the hunting of migratory birds.

He said a total of 153 shops selling chicken and eggs had been cleared by regulatory agencies and that the items for sale in those shops are safe. He explained that officials of all 15 branches of the Riyadh Municipality are making every effort to find any traces of bird flu anywhere in the capital or its vicinity.

Asked about the situation in the city, Al-Buthi said that outbreaks of the lethal H5N1 virus were on poultry farms in Mazamiyah, a Riyadh suburb, and resulted in the slaughter of about 3.5 million birds. Later, the H5N1 strain was also detected in farms around Riyadh. There is, however, no report of the disease spreading to humans in the Kingdom.

Referring to preventive measures taken by government agencies to check the spread of the disease, Al-Buthi said that a task force had been created comprising workers from the ministries of agriculture and health and the municipalities in order to deal with the problem. “Our workers have already slaughtered about 260,000 birds in the city of Riyadh since the outbreak was confirmed on Nov. 12,” he said.

“Poultry owners have been urged to take necessary precautions in order to prevent the spread of the disease,” said Afzal Sanai of Arabian Farms Company Ltd., a poultry farm located in Al-Kharj, 70 km south of Riyadh.

He said, “We are using strong disinfectants all over the poultry farm and every truck is disinfected before arriving on our premises.” This is in addition to strong disinfectants and chemicals being used on access roads and streets on the farms, he pointed out.

Asir Not Affected

Mubarak Al-Mutlaga, general manager of the Agricultural Department in Asir, said that the region does not have a bird flu problem, thanks to several preventive measures in place.

He added that the authorities had taken steps to prevent chickens from arriving in the region through Alab, a border pass between the Kingdom and Yemen. “Crops and fodder are also prevented from entering unless they undergo thorough checking,” said Al-Mutlaga.

The department is also checking up on 160 poultry businesses in Asir. Workers are only allowed to come into contact with birds wearing sterilized clothes and captured migratory birds are kept separate from domestic livestock.

“Water and food are never left uncovered to ensure there is no contamination,” he said, adding, “Culling doesn’t mean that birds are infected. This is just a precautionary measure to prevent the disease from spreading as suggested by international organizations.”

“Bird flu has not been documented in Asir. Chicken died in the area two years ago due to the Newcastle disease, which spread in Wadi Shahbal due to a human mistake,” he said.

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