H5N1 virus

Chicken flock given clean bill of health after flu tests

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 December, 2011, 12:00am


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Fears of a new bird flu outbreak were temporarily put to ease yesterday after all samples of chickens from wholesale markets and local farms were found to be free of deadly virus.

Food and Health Secretary Dr York Chow Yat-ngok, however, urged Hongkongers not to lower their guard even as another wild bird tested positive for the disease. The city still faced the risk of transmission from wild birds that come in contact with poultry, said Chow (pictured).

The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department announced yesterday that an Oriental magpie robin found dead a week ago in Tin Shui Wai had tested positive for H5N1 bird flu. The robin, a species resident in Hong Kong, was collected last Saturday from Ju Ching Chu Secondary School.

'We are safer than we suspected earlier,' Chow said. 'But we should remain vigilant.'

Speaking after a meeting of the bird flu policy committee yesterday, Chow said it remained uncertain whether the dead chicken found in the Cheung Shan Wan market carrying H5N1 was from the mainland or if it had been infected by wild birds.

Chow said the government was still awaiting the results of DNA-sequencing tests for clues to the origin of the strain of the virus it carried.

To tighten their surveillance, conservation officials have asked wholesalers at the Cheung Shan Wan market to help trace the source of the virus by immediately reporting to the department before they dispose of any dead chickens.

The discovery of the dead chicken on Tuesday led to the culling of all 19,451 live birds at the market on Wednesday and the citywide suspension of live chickens supplies for 21 days, including through the winter solstice holiday.

Since then, the government has inspected all 30 local farms and put about 200 poultry workers and traders under medical surveillance. Authorities have taken swaps from the city's 132 retail stalls. They collected 180 samples from live chickens at the market and 900 more at local farms, Chow said.

'All the samples tested negative,' Chow said, and mainland health officials had also reported no cases on farms across the border.

The government had raised the possibly of requiring that all live chickens be tagged with labels bearing their place of origin to help track future cases of the disease, but Chow said traders and farmers resisted, citing concerns about costs.