The Department of Health (DOH) has listed two Chinese provinces and two cities as areas affected by a deadly H7N9 bird flu virus, but stopped short of restricting entry to the nation by tour groups from the regions.
“The Chinese provinces of Jiangsu and Anhui, as well as Shanghai and Nanjing cities, have been listed as H7N9-affected areas,” Centers for Disease Control Director-General Chang Feng-yee (張峰義) said. “While we have not restricted entry to tour groups from those areas, we have tightened health monitoring of visitors from China, especially those from H7N9-affected regions.”
On Wednesday, health authorities listed H7N9 avian flu as a category 5 notifiable disease, a day after China confirmed four more cases of the virus crossing over to humans.
Chang said category 5 notifiable diseases refer to newly detected infectious pathogens.
The designation of H7N9 avian flu as a notifiable disease requires physicians to report cases to health authorities within 24 hours of detection and to quarantine patients.
Responding to media criticism that the DOH might have overreacted to the situation, Chang said H7N9 seems to be similar to the virulent H5N1 avian flu strain.
“We need to heighten alerts at an early stage,” Chang said, adding that it would not be enough to rely only on screening stations at ports of entry to prevent the spread of the virus.
Given the geographic proximity of Taiwan and China, the DOH needs to take precautionary measures as early as possible, he said.
He said the DOH has informed Chinese authorities that it would like to send epidemiologists to join the field studies in China and gain firsthand information on the virus.
“We have not yet received a response,” Chang said.
Separately, the Changhua County Government said it would reinforce disinfection and blood tests at poultry farms as a precaution in light of the reported H7N9 avian flu cases in China.
Hsieh Yi-mei (謝一美), acting director of the county’s Animal Disease Control Center, said that there are more than 1,200 chicken farms in the county and the center has started blood tests on livestock at all of them to monitor the situation.
In townships with a high density of poultry farms, Hsieh said, the center would reinforce disinfection operations to help keep avian flu at bay.
Meanwhile, the Taipei City Government yesterday intensified its sterilization measures at poultry markets and shops that sell live birds.
Taipei City Animal Protection Office Director Yen I-feng (嚴一峰) said the office and the city’s Market Management Administration would work together and sterilize markets and shops once a week, while strengthening cleaning work around the poultry sections of markets.
The city’s public poultry market in Wanhua District (萬華) is the largest retail poultry market and the only legal slaughterhouse in the Greater Taipei area, with chickens sent from Yilan, Hualien, Chiayi and Yunlin counties. Between 60,000 and 100,000 chickens are sold every day, he said.
There are 42 private poultry farms in Taipei, 30 pet shops that sell birds and one major public poultry market.
Yen said the office would also strengthen sterilization work in those areas and conduct regular inspections.
“We’ve been collecting samples of bird excrement from poultry farms, pet shops and around public parks since 2006, and no H5, H7 or H7N9 viruses have been found. The public should not be too worried about it,” he said.