Brazil has taken special measures to protect its largest poultry export industry from the highly pathogenic avian flu virus H5N1. Nearly $10 billion worth of poultry exports could be at risk if H5N1 infects commercial flocks domestically. The country is boosting its role in the world’s poultry and egg supply as importing countries ban imports of chicken and turkey meat from virus-infected countries. On Monday, the only World Organization for Animal Health (WOAH)-accredited laboratory in Latin America confirmed the detection of H5N1 in two wild birds captured in Espirito Santo State. Brazilian authorities do not expect cases from wild birds to affect trade, as the island of Espirito Santo on Brazil’s mid-Atlantic coast does not border on any other region.
The government has increased its investment to increase testing capacity in its network of six federal laboratories. Brazil saw a six-fold increase in suspects as poultry farmers stepped up surveillance amid more than 75 outbreaks of bird flu in nine Latin American countries this year. Drones are being used to patrol sensitive areas such as the Pantanal, the world’s largest freshwater wetland. The country has strictly prohibited unauthorized persons from visiting commercial farms.
Last year, Brazil’s poultry export earnings surged more than 27% in dollar terms, opening up new possibilities as domestic companies benefited from the global bird flu scare. Despite humans being susceptible to H5N1, global health officials say the risk to humans is low. The virus reached South America via migratory birds. Experts suggest the virus may have spread more widely this year because it resides in the small marine life that birds feed on. Scientists warn that viruses can cause mutations to increase their chances of survival as a species.