Jan 8, 2007 (CIDRAP News) – Hong Kong government officials recently announced that a wild bird found dead near a busy shopping district on Dec 31 tested positive for H5N1 avian influenza.
The infection in a scaly-breasted munia, a species often imported from mainland China and released in religious ceremonies, marks the first case found in Hong Kong since February 2006, according to reports published by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). Hong Kong has reported no human H5N1 cases since 1997, when the virus first jumped to humans.
The Hong Kong government's Jan 6 press release on the H5N1 finding doesn't specify if the virus was the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain, but Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported that it was.
Hong Kong's Agriculture, Fisheries, and Conservation Department (AFCD) announced Jan 4 that a preliminary test for the virus was positive and confirmatory tests were being conducted. AFP reported that the bird was the only one of 6 dead birds found that tested positive for the virus.
A bird watcher from Hong Kong who posted an item yesterday on ProMED-mail, the Internet-based reporting system of the International Society for Infectious Diseases, said the scaly-breasted munia is not frequently seen in urban Hong Kong but is said to be one of the 2 species most commonly released during religious ceremonies at temples. The practice of releasing these birds is a concern, he said, because they're not subject to the disease-prevention measures used with poultry, and sellers and buyers can come into contact with infected bird droppings.
The Hong Kong AFCD, in a Jan 6 press release, advised the public not to release birds, because they have little chance of surviving in the wild. A department spokesperson said the AFCD has contacted community groups, including religious groups, to warn them about releasing birds.
The statement did not refer specifically to the H5N1 case, but it said pet birds imported from mainland China must come from registered farms and be accompanied by a veterinary health certificate certifying that the birds have been quarantined and have tested negative for H5 avian flu viruses.
Farms on the mainland that are allowed to export birds to Hong Kong are inspected by mainland authorities and occasionally by AFCD authorities and must have had no avian flu outbreaks in the past 180 days.
The government said its records show that 38,000 munias, including white-backed and scaly-breasted ones, were imported into Hong Kong from the mainland in 2006. It added that the scaly-breasted Munia is a resident bird in Hong Kong and has been found all over the territory.
A department spokesperson advised Hong Kong residents to avoid personal contact with wild birds and live poultry and to wash their hands thoroughly after coming into contact with birds.
Meanwhile, in Vietnam, several ducks have died in the past few days in the southern province of Soc Trang, prompting concern about the further spread of avian flu. Xinhua, China's official news agency, reported yesterday that specimens from the ducks were sent for avian flu testing.
If tests are positive, Soc Trang will be the fourth province affected in the recent series of outbreaks, which started in early December in the south Mekong Delta provinces of Ca Mau and Bac Lieu, spreading to nearby Hau Giang province. OIE reports list 32 outbreaks during that period.
Officials from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) are in talks with the Vietnamese government about sending experts to investigate the source of the outbreaks, Voice of America News reported today.
Aphaluck Bhatiasevi, a spokesperson for the FAO office in Hanoi, told VOA the outbreak isn't surprising, because officials believe the virus is still present. "The information that we've got so far is that the recent outbreaks were triggered as a result of raising illegal ducks," she said. In earlier news reports, officials blamed local animal health officials and farmers for not maintaining poultry vaccination programs and farmers for hatching poultry illegally.
In December, an FAO-OIE crisis management team traveled to South Korea to investigate the H5N1 outbreaks in poultry that occurred south of Seoul in late November.
Jan 6 Hong Kong government press release
Jan 6 Hong Kong press release
Wikipedia photo of scaly-breasted munia
Jan 7 ProMed mail report on Hong Kong bird
OIE reports on Vietnam 2006-07 outbreak