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September 22, 2008

Togo confirms bird flu virus in poultry deaths

Togo's government has confirmed the H5N1 bird flu virus is responsible for the 10 September outbreak that killed 3,500 birds and led to the culling of an additional 1,500 others on three farms in Agbata, about 10km east of the capital.

Since its reappearance in 2003, the highly contagious virus has led to the death of millions of poultry, as well as about 200 people who were infected with the virus by sick birds, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Poultry farmer Antoine Megbeto said he is not worried because officials have killed any remaining birds that might have been infected. Immediately following the outbreak, the country's livestock director, Komla Batasse Batawui, said officials had culled the surviving birds on all three farms with sick birds.

"We are not scared," said Megbeto, "We received training starting one year ago [after the country's first H5N1 outbreak] on how to prevent the virus from spreading. Which is why as soon as I discovered the gruesome and sudden poultry deaths on my farm, I quickly alerted authorities."

But another farmer, Alphonse, is less at ease, "I am scared for my family's health. A team of doctors come around every morning to reassure us everything is well. But my family and I are nevertheless scared to eat poultry, even if they tell us that it is safe as long as it is well-cooked."

The government has promised compensation to farmers who lost birds; the farmers say no one

Shortly after the country's first H5N1 outbreak in June 2007, the government, like many of its West African neighbours, banned poultry imports from countries with confirmed cases of bird flu. But despite the ban being in place for about one year, there is still an underground market of illegal poultry imports from countries on Togo's banned list, according to local consumers.

The first bird flu cases in Togo were discovered on a farm that had received a shipment of birds from Ghana, months before Ghana's government announced a bird flu outbreak and an export ban in May 2007.

Poultry vendor and importer, Fiacre Lodonou, said his profits have slowly sunk over the past year because of the more stringent rules that have cut off his cheapest supply of poultry. "We only started business 15 years ago. Now, because of this [H5N1] virus, my sales have plummeted by more than 70 percent. I cannot even afford to order new birds now." The businessman says he fears the flu will not kill only birds, but also his business.

IRIN

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