EghtesadOnline: Following last year’s outbreak of the deadly avian flu virus across Iranian chicken farms, which led to the culling of more than 27 million chickens and inflicted losses worth more than half a billion dollars in, Iran Veterinary Organization has taken important steps to help reduce the virus’s destructive effects this year.
In an exclusive interview with Financial Tribune, Director General of IVO’s Health and Management of Poultry Diseases Office Alireza Akbarshahi explained that for containing the deadly virus, the organization has seriously considered using vaccines at the close of last fiscal year (ended March 20, 2018).
“It was decided to undertake the vaccination of the highly acute avian flu in poultry farms across 12 provinces. Vaccination started since the beginning of the Iranian calendar month of Tir (June 22-July 22) in egg production units of Qazvin, Alborz, Tehran and Qom provinces. The process is set to continue later in the provinces of East Azarbijan, Mazandaran, Gilan, Golestan, Markazi, Fars and Khorasan Razavi,” Financial Tribune quoted him as saying.
“So far, 10 million doses of vaccines have been imported from Mexico, under license from Germany, worth over €650,000. All these 10 million have been used.”
Akbarshahi added that another delivery of 10 million does from the United States is on the cards, but the shipment has not yet been cleared from customs due to foreign currency issues.
“The issue of vaccination has been circulating since the fiscal 2008-9, but it was not approved due to several reasons until last year,” he said.
Knowing the Avian Flu Virus
The IVO official said the virus has different strains, some of which infect birds only, some infect humans and some can infect both.
The acute avian flu originates from the H5N8 and H7N8 strains that are common in both birds and humans.
“One of the special features of the virus is its mutability, as it can create new strains. This is one of the major problems facing the containment of this disease in the world,” he said.
The avian flu virus is spread by migratory birds. Considering the virus’s mutability, when birds gather during migration, the possibility of the emergence of new deadly strains emerges.
The avian flu virus, similar to the human flu, will transmit and survive in cold and humid weather a lot quicker than in hot and dry weather. Hence, the spread of the virus is a lot more likely during the second half of the year.
According to Akbarshahi, the H5N8 strain is circulating currently in Iran while the H5N1 strain hit Iran years ago and led to a great deal of loss.
Migratory birds brought the H5N6 strain into Boujagh Natural Park in Kiashahr, Gilan Province, late last year, which was diagnosed in the early stages and the virus was prevented from spreading.
According to the World Health Organization, although human infection with the H5N8 strain cannot be excluded, the likelihood is low.
The disease acts periodically and in waves. H5N8 strain entered Iran in November 2016. So far, it has incurred losses in two waves during the Iranian month of Mehr (starting Sept. 23) to Tir (ending July 22) in the fiscal 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19.
During the previous outbreak, 23 provinces across Iran were infected. The biggest losses were reported in East Azarbaijan, Tehran, Qazvin, Alborz, Qom, Isfahan and Markazi provinces.
Chicken farms located in East Azarbaijan, Qazvin, Tehran, Alborz, Qom, Isfahan, Markazi, Fars, Khorasan Razavi, Gilan, Mazandaran and Golestan are more likely to suffer huge economic losses.
Akbarshahi said several reasons make the issue of avian flu a very complicated one in Iran, including the structure of breeding units in terms of high density, especially in egg production farms.
Close to 40% of poultry farms in Iran are in need of renovation, as they lack proper infrastructure for quarantine and environmental safety. What’s more, many unauthorized breeding units do not follow health and quarantine principles.
Many breeders fail to report the disease on time. Inappropriate transport of chicken manure poses another problem.
The avian flu virus has spread throughout continents and countries via migratory birds. Any contact with these birds would result in infection and then the virus could spread to poultry farms via workers and transportation vehicles.
“The prohibition of hunting wild migratory birds plays an important role in preventing the virus from spreading to native birds. This was successfully applied and implemented when H5N6 strain entered Iran,” Akbarshahi said.
The vaccination in the above-mentioned 12 provinces need to be carried out for at least three years, which requires 200 million doses annually.
“Plans are to vaccinate over 80% of the targeted poultry population by mid-Shahrivar (early September), but if for any reason this is not realized, we will witness outbreaks of the avian flu in the country during the year’s second half,” he said.
The eradication of the disease calls for managing live bird markets, combating the hunting and distribution of wild migratory birds, enclosing local birds in rural areas, improving environmental safety of breeding units in terms of physical structure and applying principles of environmental safety, overseeing the transportation of chicken manure and raw materials, and the timely reporting of symptoms by owners of poultry farms others.
If vaccination is implemented on time this year, it is possible to prevent huge losses.
Referring to obstacles in the way of importing vaccines, Akbarshahi said issues related to import, clearance, foreign currency and customs do not fall in the realm of the organization’s responsibilities, stressing that IVO is in charge of selecting, confirming the vaccines and issuing the permits.