Influenza A viruses that cause highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) also infect humans. In many developing countries such as Ghana, poultry and humans live in close proximity in both the general and military populations, increasing risk for the spread of HPAI from birds to humans. Respiratory infections such as influenza are especially prone to rapid spread among military populations living in close quarters such as barracks making this a key population for targeted avian influenza surveillance and public health education.
Twelve military barracks situated in the coastal, tropical rain forest and northern savannah belts of the country were visited and the troops and their families educated on pandemic avian influenza. Attendants at each site was obtained from the attendance sheet provided for registration. The seminars focused on zoonotic diseases, influenza surveillance, pathogenesis of avian influenza, prevention of emerging infections and biosecurity. To help direct public health policies, a questionnaire was used to collect information on animal populations and handling practices from 102 households in the military barracks. Cloacal and tracheal samples were taken from 680 domestic and domesticated wild birds and analysed for influenza A using molecular methods for virus detection.
Of the 1028 participants that took part in the seminars, 668 (65%) showed good knowledge of pandemic avian influenza and the risks associated with its infection. Even though no evidence of the presence of avian influenza (AI) infection was found in the 680 domestic and wild birds sampled, biosecurity in the households surveyed was very poor.
Active surveillance revealed that there was no AI circulation in the military barracks in April 2011. Though participants demonstrated good knowledge of pandemic avian influenza, biosecurity practices were minimal. Sustained educational programs are needed to further strengthen avian influenza surveillance and prevention in military barracks.