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September 14, 2008

Togo quarantines village in suspected bird flu case

Togo has imposed a quarantine on a southern village after a suspected outbreak of bird flu killed nearly 4,000 poultry in the small West African state, the government said on September 10.

The government's website said the sudden death of the birds at Gbata near Avepozo in the coastal Lacs prefecture indicated a possible outbreak of bird flu. Samples from the dead chickens were being sent to laboratories in Ghana and Italy to test for the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain of the disease, the website added.

Togo, one of a string of West African countries to be hit by outbreaks of bird flu over the past two years, reported several cases last year of H5N1 avian influenza among poultry.

Togo's Agriculture and Livestock Ministry had reinforced an existing ban on the import of poultry and also tightened controls on ports, markets and frontiers with neighbours Ghana, Benin and Burkina Faso, the website said.

The H5N1 strain, which has swept through bird populations in Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa, only rarely affects people but has killed 243 out of 385 people infected globally so far, according to the World Health Organisation.

People can catch the virus from close contact with infected birds or by eating their meat if not properly prepared, but scientists fear the virus could mutate and jump between humans, threatening a much more deadly flu pandemic.

Outbreaks in Africa have raised alarm bells because epidemiologists fear the continent's widespread poverty, lack of proper veterinary and medical facilities and huge informal farming sector could allow outbreaks to go unnoticed longer, increasing the risk of the virus mutating.


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