On Sunday, it was announced that the city of Hong Kong would be doing a city-wide suspension of all trade in live poultry after a random check at a local street market resulted in the discovery of the potentially deadly H7N9 bird flu virus. The news has left hundreds of vendors and shoppers who relied on the live chicken trade devastated.
China’s official Xinhua News Service reported the decision early Monday morning local time, and Reuters stated that the report presented by the food and environmental hygiene department of Hong Kong indicated that, thus far, the exact source of the virus, which they had found in a chicken fecal sample, has yet to be identified. The report went on to state that the health department had managed to contact three of the four persons who work at the market but that none of them had any symptoms of the bird flu.
The halting of the supply and trade in live poultry will affect both imported and local chicken and it is highly doubtful that the suspension will be lifted until the follow up investigations manage to trace the source of the virus. The fecal sample that was collected and tested positive for bird flu was done so on May 16, and the authorities said that it came from a stall in Tuen Mun’s Yan Oi Market, according to the Food and Environmental Hygiene.
Health minister Dr Ko Wing-man said that there are plans in the works to have the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department inspect the 29 local chicken farms and determine what the condition of their chickens are.
Hong Kong will be holding a special cross-departmental meeting on Monday concerning the investigations that were conducted over the weekend into the bird flu incident, as well as to evaluate the associated risks, and Ko said they will also use the time to determine exactly how long the suspension will last for.
“Based on the information gathered, we hope to make a risk assessment – whether we need to cull all chickens in the markets, and to see how long we have to suspend supply. The supply of chicken from the mainland remained at a very low level… The source of the sample could be from the mainland or local farms.”
Standard practice regarding the discovery of the presence of avian flu viruses is for the suspension of trade to last 21 days but that has not been confirmed as yet for this period.
The reason that the suspension of the chicken trade only occurred now, despite the fact that the sample was taken on May 16, is that it took almost three weeks for the authorities to confirm a positive result of the tests ran from that collection. Ko said that they ensured that it was a viral culture test, the most accurate method, which was done and it requires more time to run and even now some results were yet to be announced.
The South China Morning Post wrote that in the interim, the Hospital Authority would be monitoring whether or not any patients displayed symptoms, which indicate that they have the virus, as well as review any history of contact they have had with other people. The health of the poultry workers’ will be tracked by the Centre for Health Protection.
If it turns out that the fecal sample is traced to a local chicken farm, the impact will be much less on the economy. The sale of live chickens is often the most profitable part of many vendors’ businesses in Hong Kong as frozen chickens means they are not as fresh and customers prefer the live ones. The suspension will definitely see the loss of many wages for these farmers.
The H7N9 is one of the more severe strains of the bird flu virus as it can affect both birds and people, causing respiratory and organ failure as well as death in humans. It is believed that the presence of the avian flu virus now might actually indicate that there was a wider outbreak during the winter – when it tends to be more active.
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