A powerful cyclone has hit the coast of Bangladesh, with winds reported to be up to 240 kilometres (155 miles) per hour.
Cyclones are not new to Bangladesh and the authorities face a huge task if they are to prevent a major loss of life.
Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries in the world: nearly all the country is low lying and vulnerable to flooding.
An estimated 10 million people live in Bangladesh’s coastal areas and there is simply not enough room for all of them in the country’s 500 or more shelters.
If that was not enough, Avian flu has re-emerged in Bangladesh after four months, with five reported new outbreaks in poultry farms across the country since October.
The contagious viral disease was first detected in Bangladesh in March 2007. Since then there have been 55 outbreaks in 19 of the country’s 64 districts.
To halt a further spread of the virus, more than 250,000 chickens have been culled since the original outbreak.
“But indirect losses to farmers far surpass the direct loss,” veterinarian Abul Kalam Azad of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) told IRIN in Dhaka, the capital.
Many farms have downsized operations, resulting in significant layoffs and the suspension of business, while producers of poultry feed and farm equipment have also been hard hit.
“The whole US$2 billion industry is in a very nervous state,” Azad explained.
A fresh influx of migratory birds is raising further concerns. Hundreds of thousands of Siberian water fowl arrive in Bangladesh from mid-November, taking refuge in the country’s vast rivers, lakes and marshlands.
“The winter months are likely to see more outbreaks,” ASM Alamgir, a virologist at the Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research, warned.
Risk factors “At 795 persons per square kilometre, Bangladesh has the highest population density in the world.
This close proximity of human beings is a risk element for transmission of any contagious disease like flu,” Nazrul Haq, a member of the government’s technical working group on avian influenza risk, said, adding that the hot and humid environment helps pathogens spread quickly. Further compounding the problem is the prominent role of poultry farming.
Almost all rural households keep chickens as a source of cheap protein, with about 2.4 million rural women depending on backyard chicken farming as their only source of livelihood.
Even well-off families in Bangladesh raise a few chickens to supplement their income. As a result, communicating appropriate bio-security practices such as separating domestic flocks from wild ones, hygienic slaughtering and waste disposal, use of masks while cleaning chicken coops, disinfection before and after working in poultry farms, as well as the use of personal protective equipment is already proving difficult
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