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[ISLAMABAD] Commercially available soaps and detergents could kill the bird flu virus that causes extensive damage to poultry and can infect humans, scientists in Pakistan report.

Their findings — published in the 28 March issue of Virology Journal — reveal that simply washing poultry shed floors and equipment, transport vehicles and workers' clothing can go a long way in containing the virus.

The scientists — at the Poultry Research Institute, Rawalpindi, and the National Veterinary Laboratory, Islamabad — claim theirs is the first published peer-reviewed study on the use of commercially available soaps and detergents to kill the bird flu-causing H5N1 virus, although the practice was previously recommended as early as 2005.

They tested the effect of common soap brands such as Lifebuoy and detergents such as Surf Excel, as well as heat, ultraviolet light and pH (the degree of acidity of the sample) on the virus obtained from infected poultry samples during an outbreak in Pakistan in 2006.

They found that common soap and detergent brands can kill the virus at a minimum soap/detergent concentration of 0.1 per cent in 5 minutes, and almost immediately at higher concentrations.

Other disinfectants such as formalin, iodine and phenol kill the virus in 15 minutes at concentrations ranging from 0.2 to 0.4 per cent.

But heating the virus-infected samples or treating them with ultraviolet light — previously recommended by some virologists and agricultural agencies — took much longer time. 

For example, the virus was killed after 30 minutes at 56 degrees Celsius and after one day at 28 degrees Celsius. Under ultraviolet light, the virus remained alive even after an hour of exposure.

Akbar Shahid, leading author of the study and a microbiologist at the Poultry Research Institute, Rawalpindi, told SciDev.Net that although simple washing measures can contain the virus and prevent spread of infection, infected birds still need to be vaccinated.

But he added that farm owners who find vaccines too costly "can at least secure their environment from the virus through the use of detergents and soaps as this study confirms".

South Asian countries recorded outbreaks of bird flu in chicken the past winter, with Nepal recording its first case in February. The latest outbreak to be reported in the region was on 16 March in India's West Bengal state.

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