SCMP Thursday, May 17, 2001

Virus alert sparks chicken slaughter


Updated at 5.17pm:
Thousands of chickens are being slaughtered after Food and Environment Hygiene Department (FEDH) officers discovered birds infected with the H5N1 bird flu virus at three indoor food markets on Wednesday afternoon.
At around 3.30pm food stalls selling live fowl in the Yeung Uk Road Market, Fa Yuen Street Market, and Smithfield Market were closed down and ordered by FEDH officers to destroy all live fowl immediately.
Around 4,700 chickens will be dumped in the Cheung Kwan O landfill after being slaughtered and burned at the markets, which will be thoroughly sterilised following the removal of the infected fowl.
''If the H5 virus is left unattended at the markets we fear that it will combine with other viruses to form a variant strain,'' said Secretary for Food and Environment Lily Yam Kwan Pui-ying, who said that 797 chickens had already died as a result of the virus.
Despite the drastic measures being taken, Mrs Yam insisted that the infected birds were suffering from a different strain of the H5N1 virus than that of 1997/8 when an outbreak resulted in six deaths and the slaughter of 1.4 million birds.
''The virus we discovered in the markets today is not the same as the strain that broke out in 1997 and will not infect human beings,'' Mrs Kwan said.
''However, precautionary measures need to be taken to wipe out the virus completely regardless of whether the possibility of it causing harm is minimal or not,'' Mrs Yam added.
The FEDH said that infected fowl will pose no risk to human beings if cooked thoroughly.