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Hong Kong and Mainland to launch H7 avian influenza serological test next Friday

     Starting from January 24, Hong Kong and the Mainland will conduct serological test for H7 avian influenza (AI) on live poultry at Mainland registered farms and the Man Kam To Animal Inspection Station.  Serological test will also be introduced to local poultry farms in Hong Kong on the same day.

     The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government (HKSARG), the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ) and the relevant Mainland entry-exit inspection and quarantine authorities (CIQs) reached consensus on this decision after discussions.

     The Secretary for Food and Health, Dr Ko Wing-man, today (January 17) announced the above decision and the relevant arrangements at a meeting of the Legislative Council Panel on Food Safety and Environmental Hygiene.

     "At present, stringent biosecurity measures, traceability arrangements, vaccination programme for poultry against H5 AI and import protocol are imposed on all Mainland registered farms that export poultry to Hong Kong.  All live poultry bound for Hong Kong must be accompanied by an official animal health certificate and delivered to Man Kam To directly from the registered farms. These farms are subject to regular inspections by the relevant CIQs and the Centre for Food Safety (CFS) of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) to ensure compliance with the prescribed AI control requirements.

     "The existing AI preventive and control measures have been effective in preventing AI.  Building on such a foundation, we have decided to introduce the serological test, which serves as an additional surveillance measure on poultry or farms to determine if they have been infected with H7 AI in the past. This can further strengthen the capability in background monitoring and in providing alerts at the farm level.

     "While a positive result in serological test reflects the fact that the live poultry have been infected in the past, it does not mean the concerned chickens are carrying AI virus at the time when being tested. To ascertain if individual birds are carrying AI virus, we rely on genetic testing for H7 AI which is currently in use," Dr Ko said.

     In accordance with scientific and risk management principles, the HKSARG has reached a consensus with the AQSIQ on the notification mechanism and contingency measures in dealing with H7N9 AI cases on the Mainland.  The details are as follows:

- If live poultry from the Mainland are tested positive in the H7 serological test at Man Kam To, the CFS will immediately take 120 additional samples from the same consignment of live poultry for H7 Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test (genetic testing) for the purpose of verification.  The consignment of poultry will be released to the local market when there is a negative result certifying that the consignment of live poultry is not carrying AI virus. Separately, the HKSARG will notify the relevant Mainland authorities so that action is taken to step up surveillance and conduct investigation on the registered farm concerned.  The supply of live poultry to Hong Kong from that farm would continue after both sides have agreed on the investigation result.
- If live poultry from the Mainland are tested positive in the H7 genetic testing, it means that the consignment of live poultry carries H7 AI virus and should be destroyed immediately.  The live poultry co-stored with that consignment of poultry in the wholesale market will also be destroyed.  With reference to the advice of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), we will close the wholesale market for 21 days for thorough cleansing and disinfection.  The Mainland will suspend the supply of live poultry to Hong Kong from the registered farm found to be the source of the outbreak, for 21 days. The Mainland authority will conduct investigation and ensure that the farm complies with all the biosecurity management requirements.  The supply of live poultry from the relevant farm to Hong Kong will resume after both sides have agreed on the investigation result.
- Where live poultry samples or environmental samples from the Mainland with positive genetic testing results, or confirmed cases of human infection on the Mainland come to light, it is not necessary to suspend the supply of Mainland live poultry to Hong Kong since Mainland poultry exported to Hong Kong must come from registered farms and through an independent supply chain without contact with the Mainlandˇ¦s poultry markets. However, as a precautionary measure, we will step up surveillance on imported live poultry from registered farms within a radius of 13 km from the source of the samples with positive testing results or the possible source of human infection cases.  
     The HKSARG will continue to enhance liaison and exchange with the relevant Mainland authorities.  As and when the situation so warrants, exchanges including site visits will be organised to fortify the AI prevention and control efforts.

     The supply of live poultry to Hong Kong from the registered poultry farms in Shenzhen may resume on January 24 as well.

     "Since the outbreak of H7N9 AI in the Mainland, the Administration has been maintaining close liaison with the relevant Mainland authorities to assess the development of the outbreak and discuss the required measures to ensure the safety of live poultry and poultry products supplied to Hong Kong.  With the support of the AQSIQ, the relevant CIQs have enhanced H7 AI surveillance on live poultry and poultry products bound for Hong Kong by increasing the sampling size and the frequency of farm inspections. All testing results are negative so far," Dr Ko said.

     In Hong Kong, starting from April 2013, the CFS has conducted H7 genetic tests on imported live poultry at the boundary control point.  More than 14 000 samples have been tested so far and all were negative for H5 and H7 viruses. The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, the FEHD and the CFS have also strengthened the preventive and control measures against H7N9 at various levels of the local live poultry supply chain.

     "The Government will continue to closely monitor the development of the H7N9 outbreak and update the risk assessment.  However, preventive measures can only be effective with the support of the public.  I appeal to the public again to join us in our preventive efforts and maintain good personal and environmental hygiene, including washing hands frequently, wearing masks when feeling unwell, avoiding contact with live poultry or visiting live poultry markets in the affected districts, revealing their travel history to doctors and not bringing poultry to Hong Kong illegally.  These are important and effective measures for preventing diseases," Dr Ko added.

Ends/Friday, January 17, 2014
Issued at HKT 22:31


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