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Last Updated: Tuesday, 28 February 2006, 13:45 GMT
Niger shuns 'bird flu' chickens
A doctor checks the blood pressure of a Sambawa farm worker
None of the Nigerian farm workers has shown signs of illness yet
A day after the deadly strain of bird flu was confirmed in Niger, there are hardly any chickens on sale in the capital's markets.

A BBC correspondent says consumers have been wary of buying poultry since the H5N1 strain was confirmed in neighbouring Nigeria.

Despite public concern, the government is making no official comment until after Tuesday's cabinet meeting.

There has been no culling of poultry in the areas where bird flu was confirmed.

The BBC's Souleymane Issa Maiga in Niamey says the bodies of some 1,100 dead chickens and ducks have been incinerated in Magaria and Ban Barde, the two areas where the H5N1 strain was found.

These are both near the border with Nigeria.

In other developments:

  • Nigeria is due to start paying compensation to poultry farmers affected by bird flu;
  • The results of bird flu tests in Kenya are negative;
  • Ethiopia is carrying out tests after the suspicious deaths of some 6,000 birds.
  • Nigerian officials have also urged people to carry on eating chickens and eggs, as long as they are cooked properly, to reduce the economic impact, reports the AFP news agency;
  • A farm affected by bird flu in northern Nigeria has been raided by villagers, who stole thousands of birds;

No human cases of the H5N1 strain have yet been found in Africa but the UN has warned of a possible regional disaster if the disease continues to spread.

'No transparency'

Our correspondent says that with a 1,200km border between Niger and Nigeria and many families divided between the two countries, it comes as no surprise that bird flu has crossed over.

The panic is actually causing more problems and if we continue this way, in the next week, our economy would be badly affected
Dora Akunyili
Nigerian food safety official
This was echoed by Bernard Vallat, director of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).

"The measures of confinement were not taken and transparency was not applied from the beginning [in Nigeria]," he said.

"Now we know that all of the neighbouring countries of Nigeria are under a very big threat."

Niger, like most West African countries, had banned poultry imports from Nigeria, where some 300,000 chickens have reportedly died.

Bird flu has also been found in Egypt.

But Nigerian officials stress that well cooked chicken and eggs are safe to eat.

"The panic is actually causing more problems and if we continue this way, in the next week, our economy would be badly affected," said the head of the state-run food and drug administration and control, Dora Akunyili.

Some hungry villagers in northern Bauchi state appear to be unconcerned and have stole thousands of birds suspected to have been infected with bird flu. Police have made several arrests.

The Nigerian government is to start paying affected poultry farmers in order to encourage them to report suspicious deaths and stop the spread of the disease.

But the farmers say the amount on offer - 250 naira ($2) per chicken - is less than half of the market value, leading to fears they might not tell the authorities if their birds fall ill.

More than 90 people have died of H5N1 bird flu since the disease's resurgence in December 2003 - most of them in South-East Asia.

Experts say that cross-infection to humans is still relatively rare and usually occurs where people have been in close contact with infected birds.

But they say if the H5N1 strain mutates so it can be passed between humans, it could become a global pandemic, killing millions.




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