Bird Flu Alarm

2006-03-08-Stringent bird flu measures enforced

Understanding Avian Influenza

2006-03-08-Stringent bird flu measures enforced

Hong Kong will reduce its chicken population by a third within three months, control the importation of live birds and restrict the granting of new licenses for poultry farms, following the death of a man from bird flu last week in neighboring Guangdong province, officials said.

Hong Kong will reduce its chicken population by a third within three months, control the importation of live birds and restrict the granting of new licenses for poultry farms, following the death of a man from bird flu last week in neighboring Guangdong province, officials said.
Hong Kong has imposed a three- week ban on the importation of live poultry, day-old chicks and pet birds from Guangdong. Checks on local farms and retail and wholesale markets have also been stepped up.

"Guangdong province is one of the best provinces in terms of supervising the control of avian influenza," Health Secretary York Chow said.

"Since last year, all the poultry in Guangdong has been immunized by vaccination."

"We would like to take time for the authorities to investigate the case to see whether there is any change of the virus, any problem of the vaccine or any other factor in the wet market that will contribute to this infection," Chow said.

"We are still waiting for the laboratory tests."

Chow said total licensing capacity for chicken farms would be capped at two million by the end of May.

The scheme for reducing poultry numbers, introduced last year, was scheduled for implementation in February but postponed to give farmers more time to deplete stocks.

Following the Guangdong death, Chow said there would be no more delays to the timetable.

"We want to keep the number of chickens under two million. This is not intended to kill the chicken trade, we just hope that this ... will provide a healthy and safe environment for our citizens," Chow said.

However, the Poultry Wholesalers Association has threatened to take legal action over the government's decision to suspend the importation of live poultry from the mainland.

The group wants an assurance that the suspension will be lifted after 21 days provided there are no further cases of human infection in Guangdong or outbreaks in the province.

An Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department spokesman said Hong Kong's current chicken population is 2.8 million.

"Reducing the local chicken population can lower the risk of an avian influenza outbreak and promptly control its spread if an outbreak does occur," the spokesman said. He added Hong Kong has 139 chicken farms and the current stock of chickens can last for three months.

He said the government will review the decision to ban imports of newborn chicks - aimed at helping farms gradually reduce their stocks - in two weeks to see if an extension is needed.

A total of HK$269 million has been set aside for payments to poultry farmers who choose to surrender their licenses and cease operations permanently.

Chow said he was concerned about the latest death - the ninth fatality among 15 reported human bird flu infections in the mainland since October - because of its proximity to Hong Kong. It was also "worrying" that the 32-year-old man, an urban dweller, had contracted the disease despite Guangdong's stringent bird flu control measures, he said.

"His only exposure was in the wet markets, which have poultry supposedly safe for consumption," Chow said.

Aphaluck Bhatiasevi, spokeswoman of the World Health Organization's China office, said even vaccinated chickens in the market can carry the H5N1 virus.

"Although they may not be excreting as much virus as unvaccinated poultry, they may still be carrying the virus ... without falling sick or showing symptoms of illness," she said. "It is of concern because there are no clear warning signs ... to indicate that poultry could be infected."

However, Guangdong governor Huang Huahua attempted to regain public confidence in Hong Kong by saying it was 100 percent safe to eat chicken from the mainland.

He said all chickens exported to Hong Kong were perfectly healthy.

Hong Kong has not reported any human infection since early 2003, but has kept a close eye on outbreaks in neighboring mainland provinces because of the busy human and poultry traffic across the border.

Meanwhile, China has urged other governments to share more information about bird flu cases in people to prevent a human pandemic, and an official report said many residents in China's vast hinterland were uninformed about the disease.

Understanding Avian Influenza