Cablegate: Post Preparations for Avian Influenza

Published: Mon 31 Oct 2005 12:20 PM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
REF: STATE 195603
1.While there are no reports of animal or human
infections with the H5N1 strain of avian influenza,
there is considerable concern about avian influenza in
the South African press and in the mission community.
Because South Africa experienced an avian outbreak of
influenza (H5N2) in 2004, which led to widespread
poultry and ostrich culling, there is a public
expectation that avian influenza will reoccur. News of
human deaths due to H5N1 has led to special concerns.
2.In response, Mission South Africa has initiated
preparations for animal and human outbreak of avian
influenza. Under Chargis direction, post has
established a large inter-agency task force (including
Admin, Consular Affairs, Pol., all Consulates, PAS,
Peace Corps and others). The Avian Flu Task Force
(AFTF) meets every two weeks and shares its output with
U.S. Embassies Mbabane and Maseru. Comment:
reportedly, Swaziland and Lesotho will rely heavily on
RSA because all their imported food passes through
South Africa. End Comment. The AFTF has undertaken six
-To advise Embassy leadership on any questions
which arise related to avian and pandemic influenza.
-To form linkages with relevant elements of the
South African Government, local offices of concerned
international organizations and other interested
government missions, to be fully informed about
surveillance findings and local preparations for an
avian flu outbreak.
-To prepare an analysis of agricultural concerns
and interventions based on information from USDA and
local agricultural agencies.
-To compile information of use to the official and
unofficial American Communities, including FSNs, to
help ensure a reasoned and coordinated response to the
avian flu threat - ensuring that all information made
available to any agency represented at post is made
available to all.
-To develop informative materials and guidelines
that would assist individuals concerned about avian flu
(based on guidance from CA, CDC, WHO and other approved
-To develop an outbreak management plan for the
South Africa Mission.
3.To date, the AFTF has prepared a draft South
Africa-specific information document drawn from CA, CDC
and WHO guidance for the official and unofficial
American Communities in South Africa (Department
clearance awaited; text provided in para 5). It has
established a site for AI information on the Embassy
internet website and a dedicated e-mail address for
queries and answers, managed by the task force. It has
started development of outbreak communications and
management plans, building on the warden network and
earlier Embassy emergency plans. And communications
have been initiated with international organizations
offices in South Africa, other concerned missions (U.K,
Canada), and with SAG agricultural and health
officials. A separate communication from the Charg
has gone to the Director General for Health to provide
information from the first IPAPI meeting (reftel) and
to offer assistance. On the agricultural side,
according to news reports, the Onderstepoort Veterinary
Institute is analyzing Eurasian migratory bird fecal
material from Durban harbor. Officials have informed
Mission personnel that no H5N1 has yet been found
through this surveillance. Ministry of Agriculture and
Land Affairs also has just issued recommended
biosecurity measures for the poultry and ostrich
industries. In addition, the AFTF has assisted
individual agencies to complete information requests
from their agency headquarters so that all information
from South Africa reflects the best collective
information available.
4.Post plans to complete its key tasks within two
weeks, prior to the expected arrival of avian influenza
in the migratory bird population. Additional guidance
and information from Department and other USG agencies
will be appreciated. Post also would appreciate
information from other posts about their preparations.
5.Begin Text:
FSNs). There has been much public concern about the
risk of a global outbreak of the H5N1 strain of avian
influenza (flu) because it might cause widespread human
illness and death. While a limited number of humans
have become infected in the South East Asia region, no
cases of human avian flu have occurred in South Africa.
This document is designed to answer common questions
related to avian flu. Websites below will provide
further information. If you have other questions or
concerns related to the possibility of Avian Flu in
South Africa, please send them to: Responses will be
posted at the U.S. Embassy website:, following coordination
with the Medical Unit, the Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. Department of
Agriculture (USDA) and other informed agencies.
The H5N1 strain of avian influenza is a severe viral
disease affecting domestic poultry, and wild birds.
Humans who have close contact with infected birds, for
example by working in a poultry industry where the
virus is present, can contract the disease. Since
December 2003 approximately 117 confirmed human cases
of H5N1 influenza have been reported to the World
Health Organization (WHO). About 60 of these persons
have died. Sustained human to human transmission of
avian influenza has not been detected. Were the virus
to mutate, however, and improve its transmissibility
between humans, health authorities at CDC and WHO are
concerned that a world-wide epidemic might result. The
likelihood of such a mutation is debated among
The H5N1 strain of avian influenza appears to have
originated in East Asia. Some wild birds are resistant
to the disease but are able to transmit it. Since
originally detected, avian influenza has spread across
Central Asia to Turkey, Romania and parts of Europe.
Bird migration patterns suggest a possible future
spread into Africa.
Symptoms and Medical Treatment of Avian Influenza
The initial symptoms of avian influenza are similar to
those of standard human influenza and include cough,
fever and a feeling of illness.
Researchers are developing a vaccine to prevent avian
influenza in humans. To date no effective vaccine is
available. The standard yearly human influenza
vaccination is not protective against avian influenza
but the continued use of this vaccine is encouraged.
No information is available about avian flu risk in
immune-compromised individuals.
The CDC has suggested that an anti-viral medication,
oseltamivir (brand name, Tamiflu) may prevent or reduce
the severity of the disease. The medication, however,
has not been adequately tested to confirm its
effectiveness when used to treat human H5N1 virus
infection. Based on this limited data, the Department
of State has decided to pre-position some Tamiflu at
its Embassies and Consulates worldwide. It is yet to
be determined specifically who within the Embassy
community might have access to this drug or other
interventions via Embassy facilities. Tamiflu may not
be readily available overseas and the State Department
encourages American citizens traveling or living
abroad, Foreign Service Nationals and others who are
interested in obtaining this medication to consult with
their physicians. There is no provision for the U.S.
Government to provide American citizens traveling or
living abroad with medications, including in the event
of an epidemic.
Theoretical Modes of Transmission
It is important to reiterate that routine human-to-
human transmission has not yet been detected. If a
human-to-human epidemic were to occur, the disease
likely would be spread by large respiratory droplets
(produced primarily by coughs and sneezes).
Theoretically, healthy persons would be able to acquire
the disease by touching a surface contaminated by
droplets from an infected person and subsequently
touching a susceptible area on their bodies such as the
mouth, nose or eyes. Healthy persons in close contact
with an infected person also could possibly inhale the
droplets directly.
Commercial Air Travel
The State Department, CDC and WHO have not issued any
travel alerts or warnings for avian influenza-affected
areas. However, the CDC advises travelers to countries
with documented H5N1 outbreaks to avoid poultry farms,
contact with animals in live food markets, and any
surfaces that appear to be contaminated with feces or
fluids from poultry or other animals. In addition, the
State Department has asked its Embassies and Consulates
to consider public health preparedness measures that
take into consideration the fact that travel into or
out of a country with an avian influenza outbreak may
not be possible, safe or medically advisable.
Appropriate Measures to Protect Against Infection
Regardless of whether Avian Flu ever appears in South
Africa, individuals and families should implement good
hygiene and public health practices to help protect
against animal-borne infectious diseases. These
- Frequent thorough hand washing especially before
eating, before cooking, before feeding infants and
before going to bed. Waterless alcohol-based hand gels
may be used when soap is not available and hands are
not visibly soiled.
- Obtain the standard yearly human influenza
vaccination. This will not prevent avian influenza but
will greatly reduce the number of persons seeking
medical evaluation for cough and fever.
- Avoid poultry farms and contact with animals in live
food markets and any environment where birds are kept
under unsanitary conditions.
- Eat only well-cooked poultry and poultry products.
Public Health Preparedness Measures
The U.S. Embassy in South Africa is preparing outbreak
communication plans to have available in the event of
an outbreak of human H5N1 virus in South Africa.
Individuals should check regularly for current avian
flu information on the Embassy internet page
If there were a human outbreak of H5N1 virus infection,
public health prevention measures would seek to limit
the exposure of healthy persons to virus particles.
Recommended measures during an epidemic may include the
- Close schools and minimize other community
- Exclude individuals who are sick or fevered from
- Consider tele-commuting or other techniques to limit
the number of workers in workplaces,
- Remain in your home (home quarantine) with pre-
stocked food and water. The duration of any quarantine
would be specified at the time of its announcement.
There have been no cases of H5N1 detected in South
Africa. The South African Government is conducting
surveillance and is developing an outbreak response
plan. Embassy, USDA, CDC and USAID officers are in
contact with South African officials in the public
health, disease surveillance and agricultural sectors
to share information and to learn about any H5N1
threats to humans or animals in South Africa.
Agricultural Concerns
An outbreak of avian influenza of the H5N2 strain (a
different strain) occurred among ostriches on a few
farms of the Eastern Cape of South Africa during
November-December 2004. These farms were quarantined
and all poultry and ostriches were culled. Strict
quarantine measures were imposed and the disease was
contained and eliminated. No transmission to humans
was identified. South Africa is currently free of
avian influenza. The importation of poultry and poultry
products from affected countries is banned.
There is a strong possibility that the H5N1 virus will
be transmitted by migratory birds moving from Europe to
eastern and southern Africa. Wading birds pose the
greatest risk, but these are mainly confined to coastal
areas in South Africa. To this end, wild bird fecal
samples are being collected and monitored as part of an
early warning system in South Africa. Local garden
birds should be of little concern. They do not move
great distances and are unlikely to be exposed to the
virus. If a dead bird is found, use a spade to
There is no danger of acquiring avian influenza from
normally and properly cooked food. Like all viruses,
the heat of normal cooking destroys the H5N1 virus.
What Else the U.S. is Doing
On May 11, 2005, President Bush signed an emergency
appropriations bill which contained $25 million to
prevent and control the spread of avian influenza. On
September 14, 2005, President Bush announced the
International Partnership on Avian and Pandemic
Influenza. This Partnership will bring together key
nations and international organizations including
UNICEF and WHO to improve global readiness. At the
first Partnership meeting 80 countries and 8
international organizations were represented and the
groundwork was laid for increasing cooperation.
Additional Information
Additional updated information regarding avian
influenza is available from the following sources:
U.S. Embassy in South Africa
Pretoria, South Africa
To post questions:
Department of State
Washington, DC
Tel: (888) 407-4747, or if calling from overseas, (202)
For travelers medical information: alth_1185.
Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
Atlanta, GA
Tel: (888) 246-2675 tm tm
For information on influenza antiviral drugs: t/
For Travelers:
Department of Agriculture
Washington, D.C.
World Health Organization (WHO) Liaison Office
Washington, DC
Tel: (202) 331-9081 a/en/
The Government of South Africa
Pretoria, RSA 451005.htm
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