Hong Kong culls 19,000 chickens after bird flu detection

HONG KONG - Some 19,000 chickens have been culled in Hong Kong over the last two days after the H7 bird flu strain was discovered in a live batch imported from southern China.

The market where the chickens were located will be closed for three weeks for disinfection, public broadcaster RTHK reported Thursday, amid the suspension of imports of live poultry to the city from China.

Locally-reared chickens, meanwhile, will have to undergo inspection before being offered for sale, prompting complaints from local poultry traders who fear the arrangement will increase their costs. They have said they will not sell locally-reared chickens over the next three weeks in protest.

Chickens infected with the H7 avian flu were imported from a farm in China’s Huizhou city, Guangdong province, just across the border from Hong Kong, according to the secretary for food and health, Ko Wing-man.

Reports said Hong Kong authorities typically cull chickens by suffocating them in black bags filled with carbon dioxide.

"The department will conduct inspections as well as collect additional samples from all the 29 registered live chicken farms in Hong Kong to ensure that they are not affected by H7 influenza," Ko said at media session on the results of recent tests.

Hong Kong said it detected its first case of the bird flu this winter last weekend, after a woman who contracted the H7N9 strain fell critically ill. She had consumed chicken during a recent visit to southern Shenzhen city in China.

In January 2014, Hong Kong authorities culled 20,000 birds when birds imported from China were found to have been infected with the H7N9 strain.

China has suffered from a bird flu problem for several years, with outbreaks typically happening in the winter months.

Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported the H7N9 strain has infected people in Shanghai, southeastern Fujian province and eastern Zhejiang province this winter. Of the six people who contracted the disease in Zhejiang, one died.

According to the World Health Organization, the strain has a mortality rate of roughly 30 percent, and has claimed more than 170 lives since emerging in 2013.

While the H7N9 virus passes between birds, the Organization says there is not enough evidence to prove it can be transmitted between humans.

Most human H7N9 strain suffers are older males who have a link to live bird markets. The virus does not kill poultry, making surveillance more difficult.

Chinese scientists announced the development of a vaccine in October 2013 but said the virus was not prevalent enough to merit widespread vaccination.

Various strains of bird flu have hit countries across the world.

Earlier this week, local authorities in Japan’s Miyazaki prefecture slaughtered 42,000 chickens after a dead bird at a poultry farm tested positive for the H5 strain.

The H5N1 strain of bird flu has killed more than 400 people, mainly in Southeast Asia, since first appearing in 2003.

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