Fri, Dec 17, 2004 - Page 2 News List

Two strains of avian flu found in bird droppings


Council of Agriculture officials said yesterday local bird-watching enthusiasts are not required to stop the hobby after a recent discovery of avian flu in migratory birds in northern Taiwan.

The officials also reiterated that the nation remains unaffected by the lethal strain of bird flu that has taken the lives of people in other Asian countries.

The council's Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine said on Wednesday that the H5N2 strain was found in one sample of the feces of a teal, and the H5N6 strain found in a sample of the snipe feces. The samples were collected in the Guandu Nature Reserve in Taipei County. Both strains are not nearly as harmful as the lethal H5N1 avian flu virus, which has killed at least 12 people in Thailand and 20 people in Vietnam.

The bureau's deputy director general Lin Shih-yuh (林士鈺) said yesterday that so far, the deadly H5N1 strain has not been found in the country.

The H5N1 strain first leapt from birds to humans in Hong Kong in 1997 when an outbreak led to six deaths. Since 1998, Taiwan has closely monitored migratory birds. Since then, there have been 20 subtypes of the bird flu virus found in Taiwan. However, none of them evolved into the highly pathogenic one.

"It might take at least 10 days to identify and determine the capability of the two newly-found strains and their affect on the birds," Lin told the Taipei Times yesterday.

In addition, Lin said, the bureau will further compare the DNA sequence of a recently-discovered H5N2 of strain with that of the H5N2 found in chickens in southern Taiwan earlier this year.

"If they [the viruses] are similar, we might attribute the spread of the H5N2 virus [to poultry] earlier this year to the migratory birds," Lin said.

More than 400,000 birds were slaughtered earlier in the year when the the bird flu was discovered in chickens. Since March, no cases have been reported in Taiwan. However, the cause of the outbreak remains a mystery, council officials said.

Lin said that local residents have no reason to worry about the recent discovery of bird flu strains in migratory birds, and observing the birds from a distance remains safe.

"Don't intrude on [the birds'] habitats. If you touch their feces, wash your hands with soap immediately," Lin said.

Lin also said the bureau continually monitors the bird flu situation in neighboring Asian countries. Despite the recent lull in outbreaks of bird flu, there is no evidence suggesting the virus has been wiped out entirely. Since early this year, the spread of the deadly H5N1 strain led to the slaughter of more than 100 million birds in affected Asian countries, including Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and China.

Lin said that Taiwan will keep up its bird-flu prevention and control measures to ensure the nations is free of the lethal virus. Meanwhile, Taiwan's poultry farmers have been urged by the government to monitor their flocks more closely.

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