Bird flu hunters will head to markets for quick testsTop News | Carain Yeung and agencies 16 Feb 2017
Quick tests will be introduced to seek the H7N9 bird flu virus in live poultry markets in Hong Kong amid the spread of the strain in the mainland.
A record 364 human cases of H7N9 were reported this winter up to Tuesday, with the vast majority in the mainland, Centre for Health Protection controller Wong Ka-hing said after a cross- departmental meeting yesterday.
Fear of the growing menace has caused the prices of live chicken in mainland markets to hit the lowest level since 2005 and shares in major poultry companies have plunged.
The H7N9 strain, which is hard to detect in birds without testing, comes with a 40 percent human fatality count. Seventy-nine people in the mainland died in January alone.
Hong Kong has seen four imported cases this winter, with two people dead. And Wong said the SAR's situation is challenging because "intense human traffic across the border" means more cases can be expected sporadically.
Jiangsu has recorded most H7N9 cases, followed by Zhejiang and Guangdong.
Still, Wong added, no signs of virus mutation have been detected by the World Health Organization experts.
He also reminded people to avoid poultry markets when they travel to the mainland. Ten percent of the environment samples tested last month at Guangdong markets tested positive for the H7N9 virus.
With that sort of situation, Wong said, there had to be an increase in bird flu risks for the SAR, so food and health authorities are adopting faster and more stringent checks in poultry markets.
The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department already checks samples of bird feces and their drinking water with a complicated virus isolation test, says Fork Ping-lam, the department's assistant director for operations.
And what is called the polymerase chain reaction test is to be added, though just when depends on laboratory partner the University of Hong Kong.
While the virus isolation test is more accurate it takes about four to eight days to produce results, said Thomas Sit Hon-chung, assistant director for inspection and quarantine at the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department.
Results of PCR tests are known within four to five hours, but Sit said these test can generate more false- positive results.
Even so, if samples are positive for H5 or H7 viruses all live poultry sales at wholesale and retail levels will be halted immediately.
On measures for farms, Sit said there will be more unannounced visits to the SAR's 29 poultry operations, and testing of environment samples will be doubled.