Two days after suspending trade of live poultry, authorities in Hong Kong culled Monday 4,500 birds at the Cheung Shan Wan wholesale market due to evidence of H7N9 found in a bird feces sample collected at Tuen Mun Yan Oi market. Chickens, pigeons, and other birds were killed by staff in protective gear who stuffed them into a carbon dioxide bin, The Straits Times reported.
An outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome hit the city in 2003, leaving 299 people dead and roughly 1,800 infected. Up to 20,000 birds have been killed in mass culls in Hong Kong over the past two years due to bird flu concerns.
The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (ACD) have collected 120 samples from poultry farms and said they all have tested negative. The ACD expects the inspection will be completed late Tuesday.
Secretary for Food and Health Dr. Ko Wing-man said in a statement tests were expected to be completed on 29 local poultry farms, as reported by South China Morning Post. The secretary added that the trade was hopefully cleared to resume before the Tuen Ng festival, scheduled for Wednesday, June 8.
Dr. Wing-man remarked that local live poultry trade could only be returned once inspection of all local farms had been completed and all specimens were tested to be negative, as quoted by Business Standard.
Chicken vendor Chan Shun Kuen told The Straits Times she supported the government’s decision because safety was the most important issue. The business of live chicken is profitable, and vendors may be facing significant financial losses after workers receive their payment.
“Safety comes first,” Chan said. “Now we are starting from scratch and making sure everything is clean and hygienic.”
It remains unknown how the potentially fatal virus found its way into the market.
— People's Daily,China (@PDChina) June 7, 2016
No live poultry had been imported from the mainland to Hong Kong before the trade suspension, chairperson of the Hong Kong Poultry Wholesalers’ Association Tsui Ming-then confirmed. Tsui added that suspending the chicken supply for 21 days would be unnecessary because the specimen tested positive for H7N9 was found at a wet market.
The official said it would be best to follow Macau’s example of cleaning the wet markets for three days before resuming sales of live chickens.
Markets receive roughly 11,000 fresh poultry from local farms every day, meaning that a 21-day trade suspension could lead farms to accumulate from 200,000 to 300,000 live poultry, according to wholesaler Regal Cheng Chin-keung, Tech Times reported.
WHO says there is no evidence of China bird flu being spread among people
The World Health Organization said Monday that there is no indication that the H7N9 virus is being transmitted between humans, meaning that the family recently falling ill in Shanghai did not contract the virus through human contact.
On Sunday, the health department announced it had spoken with three people working at the closed street market. None of them had symptoms of the virus, as reported by Xinhua News.
Over a week ago, China announced the first cases of people infected with H7N9. The number of illnesses reported has risen to 21 since then, and there have been six deaths, four of which have been found in Shanghai. The other two have been in Zhejiang, a neighboring province.
Michael O’Leary, a WHO representative in China, said at a news conference that the local authorities had provided the organization with the right level of information regarding the situation, despite criticism that the government took too long to announce the first deaths.
The Chinese authorities reported the first deaths from the virus three weeks after they happened and reportedly argued that it took a time to determine and confirm the cause of the illness. The government had faced previous accusations in 2003 when many people claimed it had covered up the epidemic of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). About 800 people were killed globally by the outbreak.
— Young Post (@youngposthk) June 7, 2016
H7N9 is hard to detect
The bird flu virus does not cause infected birds to develop any symptoms, and it does not kill them either, which makes it easy to spread until it makes contact with humans. The WHO says most of the human cases of the infection have been linked to direct or indirect contact with infected live or dead poultry.
The first reported human case of the strain was in mainland China in March 2013, according to the WHO. Nine months later, the virus spread to Hong Kong and left three people dead.
Source: South China Morning Post