All duck farms in Chiayi County, Greater Tainan and Greater Kao-hsiung are to be tested for H7N9 avian influenza, instead of being randomly sampled, the Council of Agriculture said yesterday, as past monitoring of migratory birds has shown that wild ducks tend to have the highest number of virus carriers among migratory birds and mostly fly to the southwestern part of the nation.
Local authorities and government agencies are strengthening their monitoring activities by expanding the range of surveillance, to require samples from all duck farms in the three southern counties, where migratory ducks are seen most, Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine Deputy Director Huang Kuo-ching (黃國青) told a press conference.
“We will do what is necessary if a virus genetically similar to the one in China is found in local poultry farms, including a cull,” he said.
On Wednesday, while evaluating the risk posed by migratory birds in the spread of the H7N9 avian flu, Cheng Ming-chu (鄭明珠), a researcher at the Animal Health Institute, and Wild Bird Society of Taipei president Juan Chin-sung (阮錦松) said the risk of H7N9 avian flu transmission from birds to humans in Taiwan has dropped as migratory birds move north toward their summer breeding grounds.
However, duck farms in southwestern areas should be on the alert starting in September, when the birds start to fly south from Siberia through China to their wintering grounds in Taiwan.
Cheng said that Taiwan and China are both on the migration routes of many birds and that the coastal areas of China’s Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces are mid-journey resting areas for many of these birds.
In September, wild ducks will fly south from Siberia and could get infected with the virus in Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces, and bring it to Taiwan, putting the wild duck habitats in the country’s southern wetlands at risk, she said.
“Duck farms in southwestern Taiwan should be listed as the second source of monitoring alerts,” Cheng said.
The first source should be the annual nationwide monitoring of migratory birds carried out by the Wild Bird Society of Taipei.
Juan said the society collects at least 3,800 samples of bird droppings at every monitoring station each year.
Pet birds and pigeons in parks are also included in the monitoring program, he said, adding that 45 strains of avian flu virus have been tested so far.
Meanwhile, Animal Health Research Institute official Lee Shu-hui (李淑慧), who was recently dispatched by the council to China, reported yesterday that even though live poultry trading in Shanghai’s traditional markets has been halted, Chinese showed little concern about the disease, declining to wear surgical masks and believing that the virus is not capable of human-to-human transmission.
Lee reassured the Taiwanese public that the government’s monitoring activities are comprehensive, and have not found any H7 viruses, not even antibodies, in local poultry farms, since they were implemented in 1998.
“What can be done now is to urge poultry farms to make sure their farms are firmly enclosed by wire fencing to keep out resident birds that could come in close contact with migratory birds,” Lee said.