Southeast Asia, Subcontinent fights huge bird flu epidemic
China’s Xinjiang region has culled more than 55,000 chickens and other poultry following an outbreak of a highly virulent bird flu that has infected 16,000 birds, the Ministry of Agriculture said yesterday. The H5N6 strain of the virus was confirmed in Yining, a city of 500,000 people, and has killed 10,716 birds, the ministry said. It is the fourth flu outbreak among poultry since October and brings the total cull since then to more than 170,000 birds. Flocks are particularly vulnerable to avian flu during the winter months and sporadic outbreaks are relatively common. The culling comes amid fears about the spread of avian flu across Asia, with South Korea battling its worst-ever outbreak and Japan and India also killing flocks.
South Korea is currently trying to contain the H5N6 strain, which has caused 10 human deaths in China since April 2014. At least seven people in China have been infected this winter with the H7N9 bird flu strain and two have died. To bolster their defense against infection, Chinese poultry farmers have scrambled to give their chickens more vitamins and vaccines in recent weeks. Beijing has banned poultry imports from more than 60 countries and said any countries with highly pathogenic cases will automatically go onto that list. Regional authorities in three provinces have curbed live poultry trading in some cities to prevent the spread of the disease.
The last major bird flu outbreak in China in 2013 killed 36 people and caused more than $6 billion in losses for the agriculture sector. In a statement on its website on Sunday, the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention warned that the issue warrants greater attention this year, because the disease is developing earlier than in previous years, and cases are increasing more quickly in some districts. Delegations from Japan, South Korea and China gathered in Beijing earlier this month for a symposium on preventing and controlling bird flu and other diseases in East Asia, the Agriculture ministry’s website showed.
Bird flu hits South Korea
The year of the rooster looks set for a gloomy start. Egg prices are soaring and New Year’s festivals are being canceled as South Korea fights its worst bird flu outbreak in a decade. South Korea’s government said yesterday that about 26 million head of poultry will be culled by Wednesday, including about one-third of the country’s egg-laying hens, after the H5N6 strain of avian influenza was found in farms and parks. The latest outbreak, first reported on Nov 17, is the worst in South Korea among six since 2003.
The highly contagious influenza has spread to all provinces including a major park in south of Seoul and a scenic wetland area in the south. No human cases have been reported. The bird flu and the subsequent slaughters have reduced supplies: As of Friday, egg prices paid by wholesalers had almost doubled from a year earlier while prices paid by consumers jumped 30 percent. The government plans to subsidize shipping fees and temporarily lift tariffs on imported eggs to ease shortages. Officials said the government might buy eggs from overseas if prices continue to rise.
It all spells an inauspicious start to the year of the rooster, or chicken, according to the Asian zodiac. One of the most popular end-of-year activities in South Korea is to climb a mountain or visit the seashore to watch the last sunset of the year or the first sunrise of the New Year. Each year, hundreds of thousands of people gather in the eastern county of Ulju in the city of Ulsan to watch the sunrise from a seaside park. That event will not be held this weekend, the county said, one of many festivities cancelled to minimize the risk of the flu spreading.
Indian state orders poultry cull
Meanwhile, an eastern Indian state ordered the cull of more than 2,500 chickens and other poultry after four dead crows and three dead poultry tested positive for the highly pathogenic H5N1 virus, officials said yesterday. The bird flu virus was confirmed at Keranga village, about 35 km from Bhubaneswar, the capital of Odisha state, veterinary officials said, days after dozens of crows and chickens were found dead. More than 30,000 birds were culled in a similar outbreak in the region in 2012.
“We have issued an advisory to follow immediate measures to complete culling operations, surveillance and sanitization in the infected area,” Commissioner-cumSecretary of the state’s Fisheries and Animal Resources Development Department Bishnupada Sethi said. “Over 2,500 poultry birds are being culled within one kilometer of the epicenter for control and containment of bird flu. It’s the first time in the current season that this type of bird flu was detected in the state and in the same area.” The H5N1 strain is considered as highly pathogenic.
It can also transmit to animals such as pigs, horse, large cats, dogs and occasionally humans. China reported two fatalities from H7N9 bird flu last week, its first fatalities among this winter’s cases, stoking fears the virus could spread at a time when other Asian nations are battling to control outbreaks of the diseases. —Agencies
JAPAN: This undated handout shows local officials, wearing avian flu antivirus suits, using carbonated gas to kill chickens in Nankan town in Kumamoto prefecture. —AFP