Mass cull of chickens begins as bird flu returns to haunt Hong Kong
Dec 21, 2011, 2:36 GMT
Hong Kong - A cull of more than 17,000 chickens began in Hong Kong Wednesday after a chicken found dead in a poultry market tested positive for the deadly bird flu.
Routine tests on the bird revealed the highly pathogenic H5N1 virus which in 1997 crossed the species barrier infecting 18 people and killing six in Hong Kong, in the first modern outbreak of human bird flu.
The cull means the city will have no live chicken supplies for three weeks and begins on the day when Chinese families traditionally celebrate the Winter Solstice with a chicken dinner.
Secretary for Food and Health Dr York Chow called a press conference Tuesday night to raise the city's avian flu response level from 'alert' to 'serious' and announce the cull plus a series of preventative measures.
These include banning imports of live chickens, inspections and tests on local poultry farms and the closure of poultry markets for 21 days.
Chow said H5N1 virus had also been discovered recently in local wild birds, indicating the disease remained a threat to the community. However it is not known if the infected chicken was locally-reared or imported from China.
The outbreak in 1997 in which six people died led to the culling of 1.2 million birds in the city. Millions more were slaughtered in outbreaks in 2001, 2002 and in 2008.
Hong Kong subsequently implemented strict controls on markets and chicken imports and escaped any human infections when bird flu swept the region in 2004 and 2006.
According to the World Health Organization there have been 566 cases of human bird flu and 332 deaths since 2003.
Experts have repeatedly warned the H5N1 strain of bird flu threatens a global pandemic if it mutates into a form that is more easily transmitted between humans.