RIYADH: Three new cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza (H5N8) have sprung up in Riyadh, Dammam and Al-Ahsa, but a senior official from the Health Ministry said on Monday there is no cause for alarm since this influenza has not affected anybody in the Kingdom or in other parts of the world.
Dr. Abdullah Al-Aseeri, assistant deputy minister of health for preventive medicine, told Arab News that the Saudi Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture (MEWA) announced last month that the H5N8 strain of avian influenza was isolated from birds in a local market in Riyadh.
“This strain is highly pathogenic to birds (high death rates) and was first characterized in Ireland in 1983. Since then it has been reported in numerous locations around the world,” Al-Aseeri said.
He added that H5N8 avian influenza has not caused any human infections so far anywhere in the world.
The official said Saudi Arabia is a major route for bird migration and this virus probably got into the country through migratory birds.
According to the deputy minister, the MEWA field teams collected and tested more than 3,000 bird samples, dedicated a 24/7 call center for reporting and public education, performed extensive culling of infected birds in collaboration with the ministry of municipalities and banned commercial bird movements between cities.
The Health Ministry teams did a rapid risk assessment of H5N8. People in contact with sick birds were identified and listed for follow-up. Representative blood and repository samples were collected from people working at the affected sites. All human samples were negative for influenza.
The official said the ministry operates a national influenza surveillance program linked to the World Health Organization global influenza surveillance system.
“Human samples are continuously collected from sentinel sites and tested for various types of human influenza. Non-human influenza strains are suspected when the influenza virus is detected in a human sample but cannot be sub-typed. This has not happened in Saudi Arabia so far,” he stressed.