Controlling the surge of avian influenza cases in Central and South America

Feb 13, 2023

Over the past years, avian influenza has proven to be devastating for poultry flocks and wildlife in Africa, Asia, Europe, North America. The disease is a global threat to animal health, food security and livelihoods. Affecting primarily both domestic and wild birds, it can occasionally transmit to humans and other mammals. A highly contagious disease, avian influenza is caused by viruses, whose genetic characteristics can rapidly evolve. Numerous subtypes of HPAI viruses have circulated in diverse domestic and wild bird populations on a wide geographical scale during the past several years.

Recently, the disease has also encroached on several new countries in Central and South America. Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Honduras, Panama, Peru, and Venezuela have detected the presence of HPAI for the first time. Chile, which had been free of HPAI for 20 years, has also reported new cases of the disease. In addition, the speed of HPAI spread has been raising some concerns, reaching all these countries in only four months. While most cases have been reported in poultry, wild species have also been impacted by this disease, including the Peruvian pelican (Pelecanus thagus) and the brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis), among others.

As one of the most consumed animal proteins in the region, poultry plays a significant role in food supply and nutrition. In 2021, according to the Mexican Poultry Producers Association  , Brazil, Peru and Argentina chicken consumption ranked first, third and fifth respectively worldwide. The poultry production sector is the fastest-growing agricultural sub-sector, providing incomes for thousands of families.

When disease outbreaks occur, an effective control strategy usually involves the culling of all birds in the affected and at-risk farms to curb the spread of the disease. While based on scientific recommendations, such strategy causes inevitable economic losses for farmers and has a long-lasting impact on their livelihoods. Preventing avian influenza incursion is therefore key to sustaining the poultry industry and trade.

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