Dominica official warns island to prepare for bird flu

Bird flu could hit the Caribbean region as early as next year, according to a warning sounded by a government health official in Dominica.

Dr. Paul Ricketts said that the H5N1 strain of avian flu, which has killed or forced the slaughter of millions of chickens and ducks across Asia since 2003 and has spread recently to Europe, Africa and the Middle East by migrating birds, could hit North America this year.

The virus could then travel to the Caribbean with the summer southerly migration of birds, Ricketts said.

In response to the warning, Dominicas ministries of agriculture and health are drawing up plans to combat the virus.

Environmental health officials and veterinarians from the Caribbean will meet in Trinidad on April 4 to discuss a regional response to the virus.

Another meeting is set for April 19 in Colombia to consider a bird flu plan for Latin America and the Caribbean.

No outbreaks have been reported in the Caribbean thus far, although there have been 184 confirmed human cases and 103 deaths linked to the virus worldwide.

To contact reporter Gay Nagle Myers, send e-mail to [email protected].

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