Bird flu prep continues

As part of the ongoing precautions being taken against an avian flu outbreak, the Department of Agriculture has placed a temporary halt on the importation of captive birds.

Colin Wakelin, veterinary officer at the department, explained that birds from countries where avian flu has already been detected will not be allowed into Cayman.

For all other countries, certain restrictions will remain in place.

‘There will be a minimum of 21 days of quarantine in the country of origin during which birds will be tested for avian flu before being allowed into the Cayman Islands,’ Dr. Wakelin said.

This change is due to the problem of captive birds being infected.

‘This came into force because there have been cases of the virus in captive birds, without them showing signs of the disease,’ he said.

Even though the chances of a bird flu outbreak in Cayman are currently remote, an inter-departmental committee is developing a preparedness plan to respond, according to GIS.

The national plan follows international standards for the early detection and prevention of the spread of this disease, but at the same time also allows for unique local circumstances.

The strategy document is in its final stages of development after several meetings of a multi-agency committee with representatives from the Health Services Authority and various government departments such as Agriculture, Environmental Health, Mosquito Research and Control Unit and GIS, and deals with surveillance procedures for influenza in birds and humans, the disposal of infected birds, and measures for the possible arrival of the flu in the Islands.

The plan also sets out a communication strategy to provide updated information to the public on disease prevention and detection.

Although Cayman’s Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Kiran Kumar, stressed that it is unlikely that the current H5N1 bird flu will enter the Cayman Islands and start an outbreak here, he still sounded a warning.

‘While no-one can predict when a pandemic will occur, if one starts, we would be vulnerable due to the speed of international travel,’ he said.

With this vulnerability in mind, the Public Health Department is working closely with the Pan American Health Organization and the World Health Organization to secure appropriate assistance for acquiring vaccine and antiviral drugs in the event of the disease reaching Cayman, Mr. Kumar said.

He added that for now though, the Islands’ response focuses on the early detection of the virus and on keeping the local bird population clean.

Mr. Wakelin is asking for the public’s help in watching out for suspect birds.

‘If people see a large number of dead birds in any of the three islands, particularly in migratory fowl, don’t touch them, and contact the Department of Agriculture immediately,’ he said.

After the new year, the department will be carrying out routine testing of birds such as wild chickens and migratory birds, Mr. Wakelin added.

The department will also be looking for potential trouble spots.

‘We will be identifying places on all three islands where there are large areas of water, for people to keep an eye out for clusters of dead birds,’ Mr. Wakelin said.

Meanwhile, the PHD is finalising plans for testing samples, according to Mr. Kumar.

‘Currently we are awaiting the finalisation of systems for the laboratory testing of samples from birds and humans in the region. As soon as the missing pieces of the plan are completed, GIS will head the public communication and education campaign.

‘We are working towards having the plan completed by early January, but in the meanwhile we have contingency plans to organise testing, should the need arise,’ he said.

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