October 24, 2005


Hong Kong steps up poultry farm checks


Hong Kong said Saturday it will step up inspections of poultry farms, after a newspaper reported that poorly maintained safety nets at some farms failed to isolate chickens from migratory birds, which could carry bird flu.


Nets used to separate chickens from wild birds at two chicken farms were found punctured by openings so large an adult could pass through, the Ming Pao Daily reported Saturday.


The farms, each housing about 1,000 chickens, are near a wetland conservation area in northern Hong Kong known to be a haven for migratory birds, the paper said.


The UN's point man on bird flu warned Friday that migrating fowl appear more susceptible to the disease.


The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said it has immediately reminded 140 chicken farms to comply with the bio-security requirements stipulated in their licences.


A round of territory-wide inspections of poultry farms would be completed within the next two weeks, the statement said.


The H5N1 strain of bird flu has swept through poultry populations in many parts of Asia since 2003, jumping to humans and killing at least 62 people.


So far, most human cases have been traced to contact with sick birds, but health authorities fear that the virus could mutate into a form that spreads between humans, causing a global pandemic.


The world's first outbreak of bird flu in humans was recorded in Hong Kong in 1997, when the disease infected 18 people and killed six.


Hong Kong has also been on high alert for possible disease outbreaks since SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, killed nearly 300 people in the Chinese territory and battered its economy about two years ago.