Creating new vaccines the key in bird flu battle
A lack of vaccine choices is one of the main hurdles that must be overcome if the city is to cope with any mutation of bird flu, according to an expert.
Microbiology professor Ho Pak-leung of the University of Hong Kong said any mutation could pose health threats if the existing vaccines were no longer effective.
But pharmaceutical companies were reluctant to spend more on developing new vaccines, as it was a costly and risky investment.
'The avian flu virus is constantly evolving and that might mean that new vaccines were ineffective,' Ho said. 'Drug companies are cautious about investing in new vaccines and many are reluctant to take the financial risk.'
Alarms were raised over the efficacy of the current vaccine after a dead chicken was found to be infected with the H5N1 virus in a Hong Kong market this week. Ho and his fellow microbiologists are DNA testing the virus found in the dead bird to identify any major mutation that may undermine the efficacy of the vaccine, which is from the Netherlands.
The effectiveness of the vaccine has already come into question since the two outbreaks of bird flu in the city in 2008.
The World Health Organisation earlier raised concern over a mutated bird flu virus that appeared in Vietnam earlier this year, fearing it might become more communicable and deadly. But the WHO concluded that the virus posed no greater threat to human health than any of the other H5N1 viruses.
Meanwhile, the culling of 19,451 birds at the Cheung Sha Wan Temporary Wholesale Poultry Market and the suspension of imports of live chickens for three weeks brought a windfall to those selling chilled chickens. Buyers were willing to pay HK$150, or three times the normal price, to buy birds for the winter solstice festival yesterday. Kwok Shi-hing, chairman of the Hong Kong Chilled Meat and Poultry Association, accused retailers of overcharging. He said the wholesale price remained unchanged at HK$15.