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Tuesday, 30 December, 1997, 11:24 GMT
Hong Kong chicken slaughter continues
Workers collect chickens to be killed
The authorities in Hong Kong say they expect to complete the mass slaughter of poultry later on Tuesday in an effort to stamp out the virulent new form of influenza, known as bird flu.

The mass killing is an attempt to eradicate so-called bird flu, a new strain of flu found in poultry but which has started to infect humans, resulting in four deaths.

Chickens and other birds are being put into plastic bags and gassed with carbon dioxide.

Their remains are then sterilised before they are dumped on the territory's eight landfill sites. Fresh stocks of chickens are not expected to be allowed into Hong Kong for several weeks.

These chicks face an early death
The cull covers 160 chicken farms, 39 mixed poultry farms and two wholesale markets inside Hong Kong, a spokeswoman for the Agriculture and Fisheries Department said.

"Everybody is very busy right now with the operation. We hope to complete it in a day and a half," she added.

The total number of birds being killed is around 1.25 million, and newspapers in Hong Kong have put the cost of compensation at around $5m.

The need for the complete slaughter of poultry came when officials trying to contain the flu virus found traces of it in a poultry farm and at a wholesale market.

The Hong Kong Director of Health, Margaret Chan, said the Government was not concerned about the cost of the operation, and cared only about the public's health.

Compensation is to be paid to thousands of people employed in the poultry business.

Scuffles broke out at the news conference where the mass slaughter was announced between chicken-sellers and reporters.

bird flu
A market and a farm have beeen sealed off
Journalists have been criticised by the poultry trade for exaggerating the bird flu problem and ruining businesses.

Hong Kong, which normally imports 75,000 chickens a day from China, has already stopped all poultry imports, fearing the virus was coming from farms on the mainland.

The ban will stay in force until a strict inspection system is in place at the border, according to Hong Kong's Agriculture Director, Lessie Wei.

Under the proposed system, shipments of chickens from China will need an official certificate and will be subjected to spot tests by customs officers.

bird flu
There are still fears that the virus can be transferred between humans
"The system is to ensure that no infected chickens come onto the market in Hong Kong. Any stock found to be infected will be destroyed," Mr Wei said.

New cases of the virulent new form of influenza have been discovered in Hong Kong.

Health officials said tests showed that 30 people had been infected by the virus, H5N1. Some of those infected seem to have developed antibodies to the killer disease.

Blood tests carried out on 473 people in Hong Kong who were in contact with the first known victim suggest that some people exposed to H5N1 can develop antibodies and will not become seriously ill.

Even a runny nose has sent people dashing to hospital
Nine of the 30 people found to be infected with bird flu were said to have developed resistance to it.

The tests may indicate that the virus, which until recently only affected poultry, will not become an epidemic as had been feared.

The bird flu virus appears to be spread mainly by direct contact with chickens but human-to-human transmission has not been ruled out.

"The mode of transmission is mainly from bird-to-man, plus a rather inefficient man-to-man transmission at this stage," said Margaret Chan, Hong Kong's Health Director.

She said that a health worker had become infected with H5N1 after coming into contact with the first victim, a 6-year-old boy who died in May.

Doctors believe the health worker was infected by contact with secretions from the boy and not through airborne transmission, such as coughing or sneezing.

The main fear, according to the World Health Organisation, WHO, is rapid airborne transmission from human-to-human of a deadly influenza. So far there is scant evidence that this is happening.

A flu originating in Hong Kong in 1968 killed some 46,500 people worldwide.


The BBC's Matt Frei reports from Hong Kong (Dur: 43")

Dr Lindsay Martinez of the World Health Organisation says the risk to humans may not be as high as originally thought.
See also:

20 Jan 98 | Analysis
24 Dec 97 | Despatches
21 Dec 97 | World
29 Dec 97 | Science/Nature
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