Beijing Halts Poultry Trade to Guard Against Bird Flu

BEIJING, China, November 7, 2005 (ENS) - Trade in live poultry and poultry feeding was suspended at all Beijing's 168 markets today, in an attempt by the city government to prevent an outbreak of a deadly strain of bird flu.

The Beijing government ordered the closing of bird markets, a halt to domesticated pigeon flying and the quarantine of imported poultry products through land, railroad and air. Officials with the Beijing Industrial and Commercial Bureau said anyone who disobeys the orders will be penalized.

Resurgence of the disease in China's main farming areas is a concern. On the weekend, six million chickens were culled in Heishan county in northeast China's Liaoning province, local government officials said Sunday.

Farmers cooperated with the government because they are being compensated for the loss of their poultry. Local officials told the state news agency Xinhua that the county allocated 9.6 million yuan (US$1.16 million) to the townships on Sunday to pay farmers for their loss of income.

Twenty wild birds, mostly magpies, were also found dead in the Heishan County, officials reported to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).


A Chinese vendor sells chickens at a poultry market in Anlong in southwest China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, January 29, 2004. Poultry sales are slumping as the country works to wipe out the disease. (Photo courtesy Beijing International)
In this latest outbreak, about 222,000 birds have died or been culled, and more than 14 million were vaccinated in Inner Mongolia, Anhui, Hunan and Liaoning provinces, according to the FAO. Many millions of birds have been culled in China since the most recent outbreak began in December 2003.

The Chinese central government has said it will set aside two billion yuan (US$25 million) out of this year's budget for a bird flu prevention and control fund and to create a national headquarters for bird flu control and prevention.

China's Ministry of Health has reported three human pneumonia cases in Xiangtan County, in the southcentral province of Hunan, where an H5N1 bird flu epidemic broke out in October. One of them, a 12 year old girl, died. Her nine year old brother and a 36 year old middle school teacher recovered, health officials report.

The causes of death are as yet unidentified, but health experts said they could not rule out the possibility of human transmission of the H5N1 virus. Tests are now being conducted by laboratories under the China Center for Disease Control, a health ministry spokesman said.

The official said the ministry has invited World Health Organization experts to make a joint investigation and to determine the cause of the girl's death.

As the world takes prudent measures to prepare for a major human influenza pandemic, “more decisive action must be taken by affected countries, civil society, the private sector and by the international community to stop bird flu in animals,” said Samuel Jutzi, director of the FAO Animal Production and Health Division, at the opening of an international conference on bird flu in Geneva today.


The FAO's Samuel Jutzi attends a November 2004 meeting of the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture in Rome. (Photo courtesy Earth Negotiations Bulletin)
“To stop this dangerous and devastating disease requires extraordinary political commitment, very substantial investments, concerted international cooperation, and severe action at the country level,” Jutzi said.

“We still have a window of opportunity to stop the disease in animals. The virus has not yet reassorted or mutated; action is required now; there is no time to lose.”

The circulation of the H5N1 virus in domestic poultry is the core problem. “Controlling the virus in animals is the only way by which the likelihood of the bird flu virus acquiring human-to-human transmissibility can be influenced,” the FAO expert said.

More than 300 animal and human health experts, senior policy-makers, economists and industry representatives are gathering in Geneva to design a strategy to eliminate the virus in animals and prepare for a possible human influenza pandemic.

Meanwhile, avian influenza continues to spread among humans, and health officials fear it could mutate into a strain that is easily transmissible from person to person.

In Thailand, the seven year old son of a farmer from Kanchanaburi Province tested positive for avian influenza. His father, a 48 year old farmer, died on October 19. He and his son slaughtered and ate his neighbor's sick and dead chickens. Also, a 50 year old woman who kept backyard chickens near Bangkok has tested positive for H5N1.

Thailand has developed rapid response teams to identify possible human infection with the bird flu virus, get patients to hospitals and confirm any diagnosis with laboratory testing, according to the FAO. Some 900, 000 volunteers are conducting a door-to-door survey searching for cases of bird flu.

The Thai system is designed to contain a potential outbreak of avian influenza in humans and prevent spread throughout the country.


After dying of avian flu or being culled, chicken carcasses are burned at a Vietnamese farm in Long An province, near Ho Chi Minh City. (Photo courtesy FAO)
In Vietnam, a 24 year old woman died on Oct 23, and a 26 year old man on Oct 26 2005, in a hospital in Dong Hoi, Quang Binh Province after showing symptoms similar to bird flu, but no testing has yet been done to find out if the virus was the cause of these deaths.

Bans on poultry farming, trade of live birds and slaughter of poultry in major cities, including Hanoi, Hai Phong, Vinh and Ho Chi Minh City as well as the sale of raw blood pudding made from ducks and geese have been proposed by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. Rural farmers are permitted to raise poultry but they now need to register with agricultural officials.

A 19 year old woman from the town of Tangerang, near Jakarta, Indonesia, who reportedly caught bird flu from chickens has died, bringing the number of deaths from the disease in the country to five, a senior official at the ministry of health said Saturday.

Laboratory tests have confirmed her death as caused by bird flu, and officials say the total number of confirmed human cases in Indonesia now stands at nine.

The number of people suspected to have contracted bird flu in Indonesia has topped 100, Indonesian Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari said.

The Indonesian Agriculture Ministry has said it will mobilize at least 500 veterinary students and volunteers to help locate sick chickens.

Worldwide, 62 people have died from the disease.

The economic impact on affected countries is estimated at more than $10 billion. The livelihoods of an estimated 200 million poor small farmers have been affected by the disease.

The concentration of over one billion ducks and geese in Asia, many of which are kept in open systems, has provided an effective breeding ground for the myriad of avian influenza viruses circulating in the wild waterfowl pool.

A global investment programme is needed to stop and reduce the circulation of virus in animals to reduce the risk to humans, Jutzi said. “Too much emphasis has been given to the stockpiling of antiviral drugs while the battle against bird flu in animals remains seriously underfunded. This is unacceptable."

In order to combat bird flu, countries should strengthen their veterinary services and improve local capacity at the farm and market levels, Jutzi said. He advises that isolating poultry, good farm hygiene, use of effective vaccines, close monitoring, and quick culling have proven to be successful in bird flu control campaigns.