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Transcript of Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food on avian influenza


Following is a transcript of the question and answer session by the Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food, Dr Yeoh Eng-kiong, after visiting Fu Cheong Estate, Sham Shui Po this afternoon (January 15):

Reporter: (On avian influenza)

Dr Yeoh: The issues relating to a long-term dealing with the problems of avian flu have been discussed. Having a central slaughterhouse is one part of the options that has been considered but it is not a total solution. When you look at what has been happening in the region, the infection was brought in by migratory birds. So the migratory birds have brought in the infection in the local farms. You still will have to deal with the problem if there was an outbreak in the farm because they can still infect men in the farm. Obviously the risk is lower because your interaction with human being will be less. So all those are the issues we need to look at in the longer-term relating to the risk of so-called "zoonotic illnesses". Illnesses or diseases that normally affect animals and how they cross to men. And what are the options we need to do to reduce those risks? Avian flu is just one example. Obviously there are other things we need to look at. So all these options are being examined. The immediate risk of an outbreak of avian flu in Hong Kong is low simply because we have put in a programme of vaccination. The programme is working because we have kept test of the innoculated birds, to see whether they have developed good anti-bodies. There is no sign of breakthrough infection in our farms because we have very good surveillance programme. Both the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department and Food and Environmental Hygiene Department have a very intense and closed monitoring system for the avian flu in our markets, in our farms and at our border points. We take samples to look for avian flu. We also take the blood to look for the anti-bodies to make sure that the birds that are vaccinated are protected. This intensive surveillance programme will give assurance to the public that we have very effective programme that will prevent any possibility of any major outbreak of the avian flu in Hong Kong.

Reporter: (On the transmission of avian influenza)

Dr Yeoh: If the chickens don't have the virus, nothing will go to the pigs. So the important thing is, of course, if you eliminate the source of the virus, then you will not continue the spread. But all those are theoretical considerations. Because this is based on previous experiences where lots of these influenza-like viruses will cross species barriers and there have been examples in the past of the viruses originating in the avian species then passed onto the pigs then going onto men. Obviously that is a possible route. When you have a good preventive programme where your birds are protected, then you have nothing to go to the pigs. In Hong Kong, we also have good systems where we also have guidelines to the pig and chicken farmers in terms of how to segregate the two species. Of course, in Hong Kong, sometimes the difficulty is that there are farms which are in close proximity. The department (Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department) requires that there is to be a very high wall built between the two farms.

(Please also refer to the Chinese portion)

Ends/Thursday, January 15, 2004


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