Foreign Policy Blogs

'tis Spring: Caspian Outbreak of Avian H5N1

See this map of bird migration patterns, courtesy of BBC: then imagine that these lines are kind of blurred, because birds, after all, do not read maps and do not march in single file.  Instead, these lines demarcate a range of individual flights that are a little more widespread.  Then consider that birds bypass whole areas of land and sea to land periodically‚ more like those short hop airplane flights you would rather not take.  This adds to the unpredictability of bird flu outbreaks.  If one looks at this flyway map and think of birds instead of interstates, this map shows the susceptibility of Central Asia to outbreaks of the H5N1 Avian influenza.
'tis Spring: Caspian Outbreak of Avian H5N1

The Caspian is the intersection point for three different migratory bird patterns (only two show on this map, though).  Through trade and other vectors, it has come to the Western side of the Caspian via Turkey; through migration from Mongolia, China, and Siberia; and outbreaks have also occurred in Iraq and Afghanistan, essentially widening the diameter of outbreaks, if you use the Caspian as the midpoint.

Kazakhstan Timeline
Kazakhstan's history with bird flu is one of increasing capability and better response to the threat.  In August 2005, a bird flu outbreak hit Kazakhstan's Pavlodar province, close to the Russian border.  That summer, Kazakhstan developed a public health partnership with UN agencies such as the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and its OIE (the veterinary branch of the FAO) as well as the World Health Organization (WHO).  Kazakhstan initiated a quarantine; that year, 9.000 wild and domestic birds in Kazakhstan either died of the disease or were culled.

In March, 2006, a new outbreak in wild birds precipitated a wide range of prevention measures‚ including vaccination of up to 40,000 birds with vaccine provided by the international community.  At the fourth Central Asian agriculture and food preparation conference, Agrica-2006, a member of the Agricultural Ministry presented the prophylactic and containment measures they had planned in the event of more outbreaks.  Kazakhstan reported that they had practiced quarantine and killed thousands of infected and possibly-infected domestic birds; made arrangements to access flu vaccine if necessary, and provided funds of 172.5 million KzT (USD 1.35 million) for monitoring and other avian flu programs.

This year, as spring arrives, avian flu is again being found in wild birds.  Based upon their increasing knowledge, Kazakhstan has estimated a worst-case scenario: that up to one million of its 15 million population could be affected by flu.  This year, the state has purchased vaccine for humans as well as domestic poultry; set up dedicated labs to diagnose the flu; and is now working with the UNICEF on an awareness program that will hopefully prevent transmission of the flu to children.  Usually children or young women are entrusted with the care of backyard birds or their trussing/preparation, making them especially susceptible to the flu.

Other states:
Azerbaijan: West Caspian/Caucasus

In March, 2006, Azerbaijan reported five human deaths from eight infected by avian influenza, mostly young women involved in bird preparation.  On January 29 of this year, Azerbaijan reported the death of a fourteen-year-old boy of pneumonia that may turn out to be bird flu.

Russia: North Caspian, the Caucasus, and beyond
On February 22, 2007, Russia reported outbreaks in Moscow oblast, with some indication that government regulations concerning agricultural inspection and distribution past have been subverted; they are investigating.

Iran: South Caspian
On February 27, 2007, Iran confirmed Avian Influenza cases in their Caspian provinces after first announcing their concerns on February 14.  According to the official state agency, more than 500,000 birds have been culled and new restriction on marketplaces are in effect in the region.

The rest of Central Asia:
Considering the incidence in Iran and Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan's and Uzbekistan's non-reportage of bird flu strains this amateur epidemiologist's credibility.  The combination of isolationism, poor social services, and failing economy may contribute to either a lack of awareness or lack of reportage to the WHO or FAO.  Likewise, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have thus far not reported any cases.  Though further from the Caspian, their proximity to Afghanistan and China argue that they, also, have untackled bird flu issues.  At the time of last year's report by RFE/RL, outreach to the largely rural populations in Kyrgyzstan has not been accomplished.  No word was given from Tajikistan.