Another heron found with bird flu | Connect Asia

Another heron found with bird flu

Another heron found with bird flu

Updated 22 March 2012, 22:10 AEDT

Five years after avian influenza broke out across Asia, the region is still struggling to stop the virus spread.

Not least in Hong Kong, where officials say another grey heron has been found dead and tested positive for the fatal H 5 N 1 strain of bird flu.

ABBANY: When it comes to avian influenza, the grey heron is one of those dreaded things: a bird that moves around. Described by the South China Morning Post as a 'common winter visitor to Hong Kong', this latest dead grey heron shows how difficult it is to stop the virus spread. Birds -- by their very nature -- fly where ever they want to. But whether they're native or just visiting, the birds are forcing Hong Kong to act.

DVD: [music] Hong Kong is a well-known culinary paradise and also one of the busiest transportation hubs in the world. Any epidemic outbreak would seriously impact this place.

ABBANY: Health experts are already saying that avian influenza is endemic in many bird populations in Southeast Asia. Bird flu affects wild and commercial birds, and there are almost regular cases of both birds and people dying from the H5N1 strain in places like Indonesia and Vietnam. It's recognised as a world-wide problem, but on a national level, it's best handled by the individual country or region.

DVD: [music] Chickens must be imported via the animal inspection station at Man Kam To portal, and are randomly sampled and tested for avian flue systems.

ABBANY: To help spread the word about bird flu, rather than the virus itself, Hong Kong's Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, or ACFD, has produced this film you're hearing now. It explains that even imported poultry from the mainland is checked where the two territories meet. But the DVD's light-footed backing track rather belies the seriousness of the problem, or perhaps it's an appeal to calm. Dr Mary Chow is a senior veterinary officer with the ACFD.

DR MARY CHOW: The biggest threat we believe is the chance of people getting contact with a huge amount of poultries. So it would be in retail or wholesale. For farms, if they are in certain remote area they not necessarily to have a lot of public contact to the farm so it's not considered to be that great in risk. That's why we want to reduce the total amount of poultry in Hong Kong so people get less contact with poultry in retail site.

ABBANY: To achieve that, Hong Kong is going to the source. It's been asking poultry farmers to close their farms voluntarily -- in return for a lump sum of cash. And so far it's proved successful -- partly because many farmers are approaching retirement, but also, says to Dr Chow, because the younger generations are moving to the city rather than going into farming themselves. It's a major cultural shift. Not only in terms of employment, but also in terms of the food people eat. And it's a shift that Dr Mary Chow says started after the first case of bird flu in Hong Kong in 1997.

DR MARY CHOW : I believe after 1997 people are adjusting themselves. On the one hand they want to maintain the cultural eating habit and on the other hand they are also aware of the risk, so they are switching to chilled products or frozen products. And in the young generation they may not be able to tell the difference between chilled products and fresh products. But there's always a group of people that can tell the difference and they are sustaining the existence of fresh poultry markets.

SFX: Bird garden ...

ABBANY: Protecting Hong Kong against bird flu is a daily process -- at farms and at the city's bird gardens. Like this one at Mong Kok. The bird garden is a meeting place, where people observe other peoples' pets, and where you can buy new ones, too. Matthew Cheung is a field officer, who does regular tests on the birds here.

MATTHEW CHEUNG: Maybe in old Hong Kong the birds are entertainment, so you can see elder people come here to see other to listen to bird sounds here.

ABBANY: But bird locations like this are almost routinely, temporally shut because of bird flu fears. The shop owners are compensated, but it's still bad for business.

BIRD GARDEN SHOP OWNER: We feel very sad when they close the bird garden because we can't do business. We lose money.

ABBANY: The Hong Kong's government is having to ensure both the public's health and its livelihood. And it will do it only if the public is on its side.

DVD: [music] Members of the public may report any sick birds showing symptoms of the disease or bird carcasses via the citizens' easy link 1823. All imported pet birds should be quarantined and health checks in the exporting country before shipping. A valid animal health certificate must be presented at the time of entry into Hong Kong. After arrival, AFCD officers will randomly.

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