Niger isolates suspected bird flu farm as region takes precautions

By Abdoulaye Massalaki NIAMEY (Reuters) - Niger has identified a suspected outbreak of H5N1 bird flu on a chicken farm in the southern town of Maradi, near the border with Nigeria which has confirmed cases of the virus in several northern states. Authorities in Niger said late on Wednesday they had isolated the farm and banned the transport of all poultry out of the town, the third largest in the country, as they waited for samples to be tested in Italy. The suspected cases in Niger come a week after neighboring Burkina Faso also confirmed an outbreak of H5N1. A number of nations in the region, where borders are porous and millions rely on poultry farming as a source of income, last faced a major outbreak of bird flu in 2006. Bangana Ibrahim, Niger's livestock minister, said authorities suspected bird flu on the Maradi farm after more than half of the 2,440 chickens on it died. Ibrahim said that all poultry imports from any nation that had confirmed bird flu had been banned as of April 7. Ivory Coast and Mali have imposed similar preventative measures. For now there was no risk of human infection in Ivory Coast, said Dr. Daouda Coulibaly, head of epidemic surveillance at the ministry of health, who worked to contain the 2006 outbreak. "Currently we’re in the phase of monitoring animal health," he told Reuters. "If at some point it’s confirmed there are cases among our poultry, we’ll roll out phase two, which is to protect the population because, in being exposed to that poultry, they too could be infected." Ivory Coast has already turned back around 30,000 chickens at the Burkinabe border, Lassina Ouattara, Burkina Faso's director of veterinary services said on Thursday. "The economic implications of this bird flu epidemic are serious," he said. "Today we are in an emergency situation to respond to the epidemic, but we are already thinking of how to relaunch the sector once the crisis is contained." At least five people have died from bird flu in Egypt this year. (Additional reporting by Joe Bavier in Abidjan, Adama Diarra in Bamako and Mathieu Bonkoungou in Ouagadougou; Writing by David Lewis and Joe Bavier; Editing by Andrew Heavens and John Stonestreet)

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