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Uganda Bird Flu Strain May Spread in Lake Victoria Region

  • H5N8 virus has been spreading rapidly through Europe and Asia
  • Human infection of H5N8 strain hasn’t been detected yet

An outbreak of avian influenza in Uganda that’s killed migratory birds on the shores of Africa’s biggest lake may spread to other countries in the region.

The virus that has killed at least 1,200 wild birds on the shores of Lake Victoria has been confirmed to be H5N8, Nicholas Kauta, a council member at the World Organization for Animal Health, said Wednesday in e-mailed comments.

“The migratory birds affected tend to occupy beaches, hence the fear that the entire Lake Victoria ‘coastline’ and neighboring water bodies are risky spots,” said Kauta, who recently retired as director of animal resources of the Ugandan agriculture ministry. No human infections of the H5N8 strain have been detected so far, according to the World Health Organization.

The disease is thought to have spread in Asia and Europe via wild migratory birds, the WHO said. Uganda is the third African country to report an H5N8 outbreak, after Tunisia and Nigeria, according to the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

The white-winged tern, the bird species infected in Uganda, has a large range and migrates from Europe during the winter. The country shares Lake Victoria with Kenya and Tanzania. The disease also infected a limited number of domestic fowls, the Ugandan government said in a Jan. 23 statement.

Uganda’s avian flu outbreak, along with an armyworm invasion on the continent, will be discussed at a meeting of the Food & Agriculture Organization on Feb. 14 in Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital, it said in an e-mailed statement. The virus stands to spread south due to migration patterns, it said. Countries south of Uganda include Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

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