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Government steps up precautionary measures against avian influenza

    In view of the detection of H5N1 virus on a dead bird found in Tai Po yesterday, the Permanent Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food, Mrs Carrie Yau, today (January 20) assured the public that proper measures have been taken up by relevant departments to guard against avian influenza amid concerns that birds might spread the virus.

     Mrs Yau, who is also the chairperson of the Inter-departmental Action Co-ordinating Committee, added that departments concerned have stepped up various precautionary measures and strengthened surveillance on wild birds and nearby poultry farms following the confirmation of a dead Oriental Magpie Robin found in Kam Shan Village, Tai Po yesterday by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) to have influenza H5N1 infection.

     "The recent avian flu outbreak among birds and poultry in the region is a cause for concern. However, there is no evidence to-date to suggest that the H5N1 virus is capable of efficient human-to-human transmission. So far, the series of preventive measures we adopted in the community are generally effective in countering the threat of avian flu.

     "Nonetheless, we cannot afford to be complacent and will continue to place public health as our number one priority. The Health, Welfare and Food Bureau will continue its proactive role in co-ordinating interdepartmental efforts to combat infectious diseases through a population-based, cross-sectoral approach," she said.

     All key departments have recently enhanced surveillance and stepped up precautionary measures.

     AFCD staff today visited Kam Shan Tsuen to monitor wild birds in the area. No dead bird was found nor was there any abnormality detected.

     The department has also strengthened inspection of pet bird shops in the Bird Garden. Traders have been reminded to strictly comply with the licence conditions in view of the growing threat of avian flu.

     AFCD will increase sample collection in the Bird Garden from once every week to every five days.  Strict inspection and quarantine measures for import of pet birds had been in place, and a special permit must be obtained from the AFCD for importing birds, and it will be issued to only places where there is no evidence or suspicion of highly pathogenic avian flu being present.

     Moreover, the birds have to undergo at least 14 days pre-export quarantine and be tested for H5 and H7 during the quarantine period before shipment. Each consignment must also be accompanied by a health certificate.

     AFCD urged the public to observe good personal hygiene in keeping birds as pets. They are also advised not to panic and not to release pet birds to the wild since their chance of survival would be minimal after prolonged captivity.

     The Centre for Health Protection (CHP) of the Department of Health (DH) is issuing a letter to doctors alerting them and providing updated information on the local and global situation of avian flu.

     DH will heighten vigilance and closely monitor its surveillance system for human influenza in Hong Kong, which includes laboratory surveillance, a wide sentinel network of doctors, as well as outbreak monitoring both locally and overseas.

     Ongoing publicity and health education campaigns on avian flu prevention will be maintained in the coming months.

     The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) has agreed with the live poultry trade to add one more rest day this month for more frequent cleansing of retail markets.

     FEHD will continue with the stringent control measures at the boundary on imported poultry. With the approach of Chinese New Year and the increased number of imported live poultry, FEHD will increase the testing and monitoring of avian flu on the imported poultry.

     The Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) has maintained extra vigilance on the presence of bird disease within its collection of birds in four major parks.

     LCSD has advised people not to feed birds and wild birds in its venues, and its staff will take prosecution action for non-compliance.

     Comprehensive guidelines have been issued to staff on the proper handling of dead wild birds found in its venues and submission of suspected infected birds to the AFCD for checking. Bird-keeping staff would follow strictly the departmental guidelines on contact with birds and personal hygiene.

     All the cleansing staff (including contractorsíŽ staff) will wear proper protective clothing/gear while clearing bird droppings. LCSD would also ensure health condition of their bird collections by, for example, increasing the frequency of faecal testing of birds and cleansing of bird cages and suspending acquisition and transfer of birds.

     The Housing Department will strengthen actions to preserve environmental hygiene and cleanliness in markets, and will intensify cleansing of public housing estates by the way of "Operation Tai Ping Tei".

     It will strengthen enforcement actions against misdeeds, such as littering and spitting. Local management are requested to identify hygiene black spots and areas with high density of feral birds/pigeons, and cleansing operations will be intensified for these black spots.

     Moreover, estate staff have been deployed to frighten away feral birds. Cleansing contractors have been requested to clean/disinfect the press buttons of lifts in public residential housing blocks three times a day. Rolling text with message to remind estate residents not to feed feral birds/pigeons is being broadcasted on the Housing Channel.

     "Non-pharmaceutical prevention is just as effective in protecting oneself against pandemic flu. The best way is to practise good personal and environmental hygiene as well as adopting a healthy lifestyle. Frequent hand-washing is paramount," Mrs Yau added.

Ends/Friday, January 20, 2006
Issued at HKT 19:32


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