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Virus outbreak in west Africa raises worries about food and livelihoods

Cameroon and Niger have become the latest countries affected in the region, in an outbreak that has hit Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Ghana and Nigeria.

Bird flu outbreak in west Africa raises worries about food and livelihoods

The outbreak of a highly contagious strain of avian flu in west and central Africa has stoked fears that the disease may become endemic in the region, with lasting implications for people's livelihoods, the U.N. food agency said on Friday.

H5N1 avian influenza, or bird flu, has spread across a number of West African countries in the past two years, hitting poultry farms.

Cameroon and Niger have become the latest countries affected in the region, in an outbreak that has hit Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Ghana and Nigeria.

"The virus is already practically endemic in Nigeria and we fear that other countries that don't have the budget, the human resources and the technical capacity adequate to eliminate the disease will face the (same) risk," said Eran Raizman, ‎senior animal health officer at FAO.

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"In terms of food security and livelihoods it's a severe issue because it hampers people's efforts to progress economically.

"If the policies are to cull all the infected birds people loose all they have. If the government is not fast enough to pay the compensations they don't have anything to live off," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a phone interview.

H5N1 bird flu first infected humans in 1997 in Hong Kong. It has since spread from Asia to Europe and Africa and has become entrenched in poultry in some countries, causing millions of poultry infections and several hundred human deaths.

Raizman said despite the urgency to contain the disease, it was "challenging" to raise the funds needed to help countries like Nigeria cope with infections and eliminate the risk of the virus becoming endemic.

Nearly 3.5 million birds in Nigeria have been killed by the virus or culled to stop its spread, the FAO said.

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"If we don't act now we'll cry for generations because it will be very difficult, given the growth of the poultry industry in Africa, to control the disease," he said.

Poultry production has grown rapidly across West Africa in the past decade, the Ivory Coast alone has seen output expand by more than 60 percent, according to FAO.

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