Saudi hit by bird flu - 3.5mn birds killed

Kingdom culls 3.5 million birds at poultry farms near Riyadh over ten days to stop spread of disease.
By Wael Mahdi
Thu 22 Nov 2007 12:07 PM

Saudi Arabia has culled 3.5 million birds affected by bird flu at poultry farms and markets surrounding the capital Riyadh over the past 10 days, the Saudi Ministry of Agriculture reported on Wednesday.

The Agriculture Ministry said that the birds, which have a deadly strain of bird flu (H5N1 Avian flu), were found in four governorates of the Riyadh province, and in one of the major bird markets in the capital city.

The ministry said poultry in the radius of 5 kilometres from any farm found with the virus have been destroyed.

The Saudi Minister of Agriculture Fahd Balghunaim appeared on Saudi national television on Wednesday stating that his ministry culled 3.2 million birds from 10 farms in Riyadh province so far. The minister figure is lesser than the official ministry figures by 300,000 birds.

The minister also said the outbreak of the virus in the kingdom can be attributed to migratory birds that pass through the kingdom in their migration from Central Asia and Eastern Europe to Africa.

The first affected birds were discovered on November 12, the ministry added.

Saudi daily Al-Eqtisadiah estimated that the losses of the birds' owners were approximately five million Saudi Riyals ($1.3 million) in ten days.

According to some figures, there are more than 340 licensed poultry farms across the country and they produce nearly 480 million birds annually. Total investment in the industry is estimated at more than SR40 billion.

An agriculture ministry statement carried by newspapers said the birds were culled at the farm in al-Kharj, 150 kilometres (94 miles) south of Riyadh, after 1,500 birds died earlier this week.

The statement said it was not clear how the birds had become infected with the H5N1 virus. It gave no more details.

In February, Saudi Arabia lifted bans going back to 2004 on poultry imports from 42 countries. The ministry has since announced that it has returned its ban on imported birds.

The ministry also has dedicated a phone line for people to report on affected birds. (Reuters)

Humans have not affected by the bird flu virus, the ministry said. It also added that it has examined several workers in poultry farms and their test results of bird flu virus came out negative.

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