H5N1 virus

Time to test wet markets region-wide, expert says

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 March, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 March, 2006, 12:00am

A region-wide testing of wet markets in Asia is needed to determine the extent of bird flu in poultry and help to control its spread, a bird flu expert has said.

Malik Peiris, professor at the department of microbiology at the University of Hong Kong, said what happened in Guangzhou, where one man died despite there being no apparent poultry outbreak, showed that surveillance of chickens was insufficient.

'There have been other cases also in mainland areas and in other places in Asia where there are no poultry outbreaks but there have been human cases,' he said.

'This is why we have been saying that a poultry outbreak alone is not adequate for surveillance, especially if you have ducks and geese in poultry markets. These ducks can excrete the virus without any symptoms and cause problems,' Professor Peiris said.

'There should be some planned studies across Asia in these live poultry market settings. Otherwise we really do not know how widespread the infection is,' he said.

Professor Peiris also said the three-week suspension of mainland imports of chicken into Hong Kong 'gives time for the Guangdong authorities to investigate the source of infection'.

Former legislator and an infectious diseases specialist, Lo Wing-lok, said the one human case in Guangzhou meant 'it is almost certain that he got the virus from poultry in the wet markets, indicating strongly that poultry in Guangzhou have been infected with bird flu'.

Dr Lo said it might be that the poultry surveillance for H5N1 was not good enough, or mainland chickens were being protected partially by an inferior vaccine.

Medical sector legislator Kwok Ka-ki said health declaration forms should be used at the border together with temperature screening.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation has asked Guangdong authorities for more information on the case.