Kenya is at risk of influenza A (H7N9) virus common in poultry and other birds. Livestock PS Dr Khadijah Kassachoon said the disease was confirmed in China last year with a total of 139 human cases including 45 deaths.
He said the cordial relationship and technical cooperation between the two countries that has resulted in increasing movement of goods and services could risk infection.
"This therefore means that the potential risk of H7N9 spreading to Kenya is very high as the movement is in both urban and rural areas due to work in road construction and service sectors.
In addition to the above, Kenyan international borders are very porous which further increases the risk of infection and spread. The international trade policies like Free Trade Area such as Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa and East Africa Community complicates the risk of spread of H7N9 and other poultry diseases," he said while officiating a H7N9 surveillance inception workshop in Nairobi last week.
Poultry sector in Kenya has an estimated 31.8 million birds, of which 76 per cent are indigenous, 14 per cent broilers, eight per cent layers while all other birds such as ducks, turkeys, quails, ostriches make up the remaining two per cent.
The workshop, held by experts in health and veterinary services with participants from 11 African countries, was geared towards reinforcing risk assessment, disease surveillance and diagnostic capacity for H7N9, risk communication and management including preparedness and response.
He added that during the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) threat caused by H5N1 virus, Kenya experienced adverse impacts on poultry production and trade losing an estimated Sh2.3 billion.
"Unlike H5N1 infection where poultry and other birds show distinct clinical signs and high mortalities, the H7N9 virus infection show no clinical signs hence the potential for silent spread to wider geographical areas undetected. This coupled with high human susceptibility, the infection has potential to cause pandemic and higher economic losses," said Kassachoon.