Sat, Dec 20, 2003 - Page 2 News List

Officials issue an alert against virulent bird flu

KOREAN OUTBREAK Officials are urging all farmers and travelers to take precautions to stop a contagious strain of bird flu from spreading locally

By Chiu Yu-Tzu  /  STAFF REPORTER

The government has banned the import of birds and any related products from South Korea, where an outbreak of bird flu has forced farmers to slaughter tens of thousands of chickens and ducks this week.

Council of Agriculture officials yesterday urged Taiwanese bird farmers to be alert to the arrival of migratory birds from the north. South Korean authorities suspect migratory birds might have caused the disease outbreak in their country.

On Wednesday, the council's Animals and Plants Inspection and Quarantine Bureau announced a ban on the import of birds and any related products from South Korea to block possible channels of transmission.

Yesterday, bureau officials said that a more challenging task would be monitoring migratory birds because wild birds could bring various viruses into this country.

"A risk of domestic fowl being infected by migratory birds returning from the north cannot be ruled out entirely," said Chen Yu-hsin (陳雨新), director of the Animal Inspection Department.

Chen said farm owners should take emergency measures to prevent migratory birds and wild fowl from entering henhouses or warehouses in search of food.

Most migratory birds wintering in Taiwan depart from Siberia and pass over the Korean Peninsula or Japan on their way here.

According to the bureau, it has been confirmed that the outbreak in South Korea was caused by the H5N1-strain of avian influenza. The H5N1 strain killed six people in Hong Kong in 1997 and 1998.

So far, the people working at affected farms in South Korea appear unaffected but Seoul authorities have sent lab samples to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for further examination and to see if the strain in South Korea is the same as the deadly one in Hong Kong.

Chen said that the bureau would step up its routine monitoring of migratory birds -- projects that are carried out by professional bird-watching groups -- and examine the excrement of migratory birds in habitats in Taipei, Ilan, Changhua, Tainan and Kinmen.

Chen said Coast Guard Administration personnel will assist with the monitoring work.

On Thursday, bureau Director Chiang Yi-nan (江益男) urged people heading to Hong Kong, China and South Korea not to visit chicken farms in those areas. If such a field trip is unavoidable, travelers are urged to wait at least one week after returning home before setting foot on a domestic farm.

The bureau has established an emergency mechanism which would be triggered if a case of avian influenza is reported. This would include slaughtering all animals raised within 3km of affected farms.

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