The preemptive, coordinated, and effective work of the Agricultural and Livestock Service (SAG), ChileCarne, and other public and private actors facilitated the swift detection of the H5N1 strain in the north of Chile, activating the necessary biosecurity protocols to keep poultry farms virus-free.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) regional office called for the activation of emergency protocols in Latin America after the recent confirmation of Avian Influenza H5N1 cases in Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, and Venezuela.

In Chile, the disease was confirmed in early December after a dead bird in the northern city of Arica tested positive for the H5N1 strain, and other cases later found in Iquique and Antofagasta, a little further South.

Latin America and the Caribbean produce 20.4% of the poultry and 10% of the table eggs eaten worldwide, hence the urgency to activate the emergency protocols. The FAO recommends stepping up biosecurity measures and minimum production standards in poultry farms, including backyard farms that might be more prone to contact with wild birds carrying the virus.

This is why SAG is working in partnership with the entire poultry production chain to increase biosecurity measures. “The speed of detection shows the effectiveness of the work we have been doing and that alerts are working so we can react promptly. SAG’s experts conduct ongoing monitoring, and since this strain appeared in the United States, we have doubled down on efforts focused on wild birds. It should be noted, though, that Chilean white meat producers and exporters have been improving biosecurity for many years, given the threat of the arrival of these diseases,” said ChileCarne’s President, Juan Carlos Domínguez.

Preemptive protocols and mitigating actions in Chile

The FAO reported being in communication with the official veterinary services and the Ministries of Agriculture, Livestock, and the Environment of the impacted countries to provide them with the technical and logistical support they need to deal with this emergency.

In Chile, the public and private sectors have been working together for years in both prevention and emergency response to situations like this. ChileCarne supports the public sector with programs focused on protecting the borders and wetlands and reinforcing preventive sampling of exotic diseases.

“ChileCarne, in collaboration with Chilehuevos, leads the Wetlands Program linked to preventing Avian influenza today as it aims to prevent the entry of exotic and endemic diseases by supporting poultry farmers near seven wetlands of epidemiological importance. This is done to preserve the animal health asset and avoid the consequences that an outbreak of a disease with high economic and productive impact could produce, such as bird culling, market closures, economic losses, etc.,” explains Juan Carlos Domínguez.

Similarly, Chilean poultry producers and exporters have constantly supported the improvement of exotic disease preventive sampling by the corresponding public agencies. “We support them by donating equipment to obtain results more quickly without needing to send the samples to the United States or other countries. We want Chile to have the installed capacity in the event of an emergency,” he added.

This is particularly relevant in the current situation, as it allowed for the swift detection of the H5N1 strain in line with FAO’s emergency recommendations of increasing epidemiological surveillance in both wild and domestic birds.

The public-private coordinated work in Chile has also included support in border control as part of a strategic plan to mitigate the risk of any virus entering the country.

It should be noted that FAO’s Animal Health Department, in close coordination with the regional Steering Committee of the Global Framework for the Progressive Control Transboundary Animal Diseases (GF-TADs), is supporting national plans for prevention, early detection, and response to the regional emergency of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza.