Suitable measures being taken to protect poultry in Hong Kong
I refer to the letter from Heather Cheung headlined 'Long wait for test results unacceptable' (South China Morning Post, April 19).
She was concerned that the viral screening tests conducted on poultry by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) took four weeks to process.
In October 2000, our company launched a novel detection method that was capable of detecting avian influenza H5 sub-types, including the H5N1 goose variant detected recently.
The detection kit was developed with the full assistance of staff at the AFCD.
The kit is used by the department as part of its panel of screening tests for H5 and other sub-types of avian influenza.
The kit is used to monitor imported poultry at the point of entry into Hong Kong and at periodic tests at markets throughout the SAR. Tests are also conducted on poultry farms in the SAR.
The test is performed on swabs taken from chickens and other poultry and is highly accurate and reliable for detecting minute quantities of H5 viruses. Appropriately trained technicians can obtain results from such tests in one day.
The standard means of detecting viral infection is by identifying antibodies to the virus circulating in the blood or shed into the intestinal tract. The antibody test is still the preferred method of testing poultry by the AFCD.
The one drawback with relying on the antibody method is that it does not identify birds actually infected with the virus, merely birds that have come into contact with the virus at some previous point in time. With many hundreds of tests performed every day on poultry samples by the AFCD, it is inevitable that a backlog will occur.
Despite thousands of antibody tests and hundreds of the new tests being conducted, viral sub-types similar to those that caused the devastating outbreak in 1997 have yet to be detected.
Ms Cheung can rest assured that appropriate measures are being taken to protect poultry in Hong Kong from further outbreaks of avian influenza.
Dr RICHARD A COLLINS
Hong Kong DNA Chips Ltd