From: Reuters
Published May 16, 2006 12:00 AM

Hong Kong Checks Reports of 30,000 China Chicken Deaths

HONG KONG — Hong Kong is checking media reports of the deaths of 30,000 chickens on a farm in the northeastern Chinese city of Dalian, a government spokesman said on Monday.

Authorities have been on the lookout for outbreaks of the H5N1 bird flu virus on farms, which experts fear may evolve into a form passed easily from human to human and trigger a pandemic, killing millions of people.

The farm, operated by the Dalian Hanwei Chicken Farm Co., kept two million hens and was a major supplier of eggs to Bejing and southern China, including Hong Kong and Macau, the South China Morning Post reported on Monday.

"We are trying to clarify with Chinese authorities about the reports. All food that's exported to Hong Kong from China must be approved by authorities in the mainland," the spokesman said.

"We haven't had any reply yet," he said.

In an interview with Hong Kong's TVB station on Sunday night, a manager of the company's subsidiary in Beijing said she was told 20,000 to 30,000 chickens died on the farm around May 4.

The manager, Zhang Yan, said the chickens died after being injected with vaccines to protect them against bird flu.

Instead of giving protection, bad vaccines can cause illness, or worse, mask diseases. In the latter case, the animal or person appears well but would carry the virus and infect others.

That eggs may be contaminated is especially worrying for Hong Kong. Unlike imports of live chickens or pork from China, which need to originate from approved farms, there is no such requirement for eggs, though they are randomly tested in China.

"Eggs do get inspected and mainland authorities monitor and test them before exporting them to Hong Kong but they do not come from designated farms," the Hong Kong government spokesman said.

He did not know if eggs from Dalian were exported to Hong Kong.

Highly pathogenic bird flu viruses can be found inside and on the surface of eggs laid by infected birds, and eggs from areas with outbreaks in poultry should not be consumed raw or even partially cooked, according to the World Health Organisation.

In China, 12 people are known to have died of bird flu and six have survived. Worldwide, 115 people have died in nine countries. The virus remains a disease in birds and is hard for humans to catch.

China has reported almost 40 outbreaks of bird flu in poultry across a dozen provinces over the past year. Health experts see the country as being particularly at risk because of its huge human population and many poor, remote areas.

As in many other parts of Asia, domestic poultry often live cheek by jowl with humans in China, increasing the risk of transmission to people through contact with sick birds.

Source: Reuters

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