Monday, February 12, 2007

Hong Kong: avian flu

Just prior to Christmas 2006, a Scaly-breasted Munia bird dropped dead in Leighton Road, Causeway Bay. Since when a Crested Goshawk in Shek Kip Mei, a Japanese White-eye in San Po Kong, a House Crow in Sham Shui Po, and a White-backed Munia in less than sylvian Mong Kok have also dropped dead. There may have been a few others . . . Mister Bijou is not an obsessive collector of dead bird data.

All those wild birds tested positive for H5NI. What is interesting is that everyone in Hong Kong continue to lead lives as normal. Why? Back in 1997, people died (18 cases, six deaths) as a result of H5NI infection. Extensive studies showed that all those infected had had direct contact with diseased poultry. But even before the evidence was out, people stopped buying live, chilled and frozen chickens, ducks, what-have-you. Meanwhile, the Government ordered the slaughter of a millions of chickens in factory farms in New Territories. Imports stopped, too. End of story.

Then there was the dreadful SARS crisis in Hong Kong in spring 2003: a savage pneumonia-like respiratory illness that often proved fatal. Where did that come from? How was it spread? What was it? To begin with, nobody knew.

So, panic in the supermarkets, expats flying out their families. For the rest of us, there was stoicism, face masks, and don't touch anything in the public sphere: escalator guardrails, lift buttons, door knobs, ATM machine buttons. . .

With all that past experience under our collective belt, Mister Bijou speculates Hong Kong's partially unenfranchised citizens have since been keeping an eye on Dr Martin Williams's excellent forum "H5N1 Poultry Flu and migratory birds". Hence the lack of any panic about the current dead wild birds. For the good doctor has, after all, been banging on since 2005 that poultry birds (and the trade in such birds) are the main vector for the spread of H5NI to humans: Dr Martin Williams

What's more, Peter Melchett (who he?) also has some interesting things to say about about agri-business, hi-tech farming and bird flu in today's Guardian: A wild bird chase

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