Eyecare Tips

Bahamas Investigates Bird Deaths, PAHO

April 30, 2017

Officials of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) are assisting the ministries of agriculture and health of the Bahamas in their investigation of the cause of death of ten birds found on the island of Great Inagua, at the southern end of the Bahamas archipelago.

Two veterinary experts from the Bahamas Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources traveled to the island, some 360 miles from Nassau, on Wednesday to investigate the bird deaths and to obtain specimens for testing.

According to the senior veterinary officer, ten birds, whose decomposed carcasses were found, appeared to have died some time ago of unexplained causes. Earlier reports of higher numbers included several birds that had died of explainable causes, including aging, hunting, and a dog attack. The veterinary officer said there were no signs of illness in other birds in the area, as might be expected if the lethal H5N1 bird flu virus were present.

PAHO's country office in Nassau is assisting government officials with arrangements for testing of the specimens by a World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) reference laboratory in the United Kingdom. PAHO provided information on how to collect, handle, and ship international diagnostic materials and has made contact with the lab, the Veterinary Laboratories Agency in Weybridge, England, which has agreed to test the samples.

PAHO has also arranged for rapid test kits to be sent to Nassau from its Caribbean Epidemiology Centre (CAREC) to test additional specimens for influenza A.

Meanwhile, PAHO officials emphasized today that no one can predict if or when avian influenza will reach the Americas, but the risk exists. "The key to fighting H5N1 is to make sure we have effective surveillance, with quick reporting, and to be prepared to respond to any outbreak, if and when it occurs," said Albino Belotto, head of PAHO's Veterinary Public Health program.

PAHO and the World Health Organization have warned that the international spread of H5N1 in birds increases the chances that the virus could mutate to become easily transmissible from person to person, which could spark a global pandemic.

PAHO/WHO has been providing assistance to its member countries on the development of national pandemic preparedness plans. The organization hosted a five-day workshop in Panama in late February for officials from Central America and the Dominican Republic, to assess and coordinate their national flu preparedness plans. Also in February, PAHO and the government of Trinidad and Tobago organized a three-day workshop on risk communication on avian and pandemic flu.

PAHO was established in 1902 and is the world's oldest public health organization. It works with all the countries of the Americas to improve the health and the quality of life of the people of the Americas.