Fri, Mar 07, 2003 - Page 2 News List

Kinmen officials inspect farms for bird flu

HEALTH THREAT The county's Animal and Plant Inspection Center is looking for traces of the viruses that cause bird flu, but has yet to find any trace of the disease

By Melody Chen  /  STAFF REPORTER

As Hong Kong is on high alert to avoid another outbreak of bird flu, the Kinmen County Government launched an inspection of the county's poultry farms yesterday to prevent an outbreak of the disease.

Kinmen is located off the coast of China's Fujian Province, where a Hong Kong man contracted bird flu and died last month.

A team led by Yang Chun-jen (楊鈞任), director of Kinmen County's Animal and Plant Inspection Center, collected blood samples of chickens, ducks and geese at 10 poultry farms.

Yesterday's inspection was the first of its kind this year.

"We carry out an inspection of local poultry farms every three months," Yang said.

The samples will be sent to National Chung Hsing University for further testing. According to Yang, the center began collecting blood samples of poultry in 2001 as part of its efforts to prevent an outbreak of bird flu.

"We have collected 860 poultry blood samples since June 2001. The viruses H7 and H5 which cause bird flu have not been discovered since we started the inspections," Yang said.

"Before poultry from China is transported to Taiwan, we collect saliva samples of the birds for testing," Yang said.

Poultry inspections in Kinmen are particularly important because it is difficult to curb poultry smuggling from China, according to the Council of Agriculture's Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine.

"The Coast Guard Administration has helped a lot in seizing smuggled poultry from China," an official at bureau said. "But we also need local residents' help to combat the smuggling."

According to the official, domestic airports and seaports will immediately be put on alert whenever suspicious bird-flu cases are reported aboard.

"Once the cases have been confirmed as bird flu, we would immediately ban poultry imports from that country," the official said.

According to Yang, migratory birds are also under the center's inspection.

Yao Chung-hwei (姚中慧), another bureau official, said yesterday that migratory birds and poultry are the major two parts of bureau's inspections.

"We set up five monitoring stations at stopovers for migratory birds to collect the birds' excrement for testing. The stations are in Kinmen, Taipei, Ilan, Tainan and Changhua," Yao said.

Yao said the excrement collections usually run from September to March.

"Most migratory birds arrive during this time. Last year alone we collected around 2,000 samples," Yao said.

Meanwhile, Chen Kow-tong (陳國東), director of the Center for Disease Control's Division of Surveillance, said yesterday that initial symptoms of bird flu are similar to ordinary flu.

"The major difference between bird flu and ordinary flu is that while bird flu viruses can jump from birds to humans, ordinary flu is only transmitted between humans," Chen said.

Chen said it is uncertain whether bird flu can be transmitted between humans.

An outbreak of bird flu in Taiwan would pose an additional threat as no antibody against the disease is available in the country, Chen said.

"There is no vaccine against bird flu, either. The best way to prevent the disease is to strengthen inspections," Chen said.

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