Hong Kong's battle to beat bird flu will be the centre of attention at an international conference on the virus which starts on Monday in the United States. The fifth International Symposium on Avian Influenza, which is held every five years and gathers scientists, veterinarians, biologists and government regulators from across the world, is being held at the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia. Hong Kong's latest outbreak has led to the culling of 950,000 farm chickens in the past two months. 'People now cannot talk about flu in poultry without talking about Hong Kong,' said Robert Webster of the department of virology and molecular biology at St Jude Children's Research Hospital in Tennessee. Dr Webster is acknowledged as the world's foremost bird flu expert. The last symposium was held in 1997 in Montreal, Canada, before the H5N1 outbreak in Hong Kong that year, the first time it crossed the species barrier, killing six people out of 18 people infected. A second outbreak occurred in May last year, leading to another mass chicken cull. A third has been going on sporadically since February at chicken farms, leading to chicken slaughtering and the first vaccination programme against H5. Four Hong Kong experts are also set to speak at the four-day conference. They are Leslie Sims, an assistant director for inspection and quarantine with the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department; University of Hong Kong microbiologists Malik Peiris and Guan Yi; and Richard Collins, a biochemist and a project manager at the private biotech company HKDNA Chips. Speaking to the South China Morning Post from his Memphis laboratory, Dr Webster said Hong Kong's bird flu experience would be a major component of the conference. 'Especially as Hong Kong is doing vaccinations, it is a vital conference for people there,' said Dr Webster, who will give a keynote speech. About 400,000 chickens at 21 Pak Sha farms are being vaccinated with a Mexican-manufactured vaccine in a 10-day operation which began on Thursday in another effort to stop this year's H5N1 outbreak. Dr Webster said as well as vaccination, biosecurity of farms had to be effected if Hong Kong was to keep chickens from becoming infected. 'All farms must be fenced, there should be screens to keep little birds out, people coming in and out should change their clothes and boots, and the boots should be washed and disinfected,' he said. Domestic ducks and geese are natural sources of the viruses. When infected, their droppings transmit the virus. The conference will also hear a report from the investigation into the latest H5N1 outbreak from Dr Sims, ahead of its submission to the Government on April 27. The conference is sponsored by the US Animal Health Association.