Hong Kong Steps Up Bird Flu Searches
Hong Kong (AFP) Feb 06, 2006
A magpie has been found to have died with the lethal-to-humans H5N1 bird flu in Hong Kong, experts said Monday, bringing to five this year the number of birds found with the killer disease.
The test result on the bird, which was discovered in a rural area close to the Chinese border over the weekend, came as officials stepped up measures to stop the virus speading to Hong Kong from bird flu-hit regions of China.
A statement from the former British colony's agriculture ministry confirmed the bird had the virus, which has killed 85 people throughout Asia and has spread as far as Eastern Europe.
The spate of bird flu discoveries -- in three other wild species and a chicken smuggled from China -- over the past two weeks is the worst since two infected falcons were found in 2004.
The last recorded outbreaks among humans here was in 2003, when a boy and his father died after a trip to China.
The latest scare is likely to deepen concerns that the virus could mutate to a form easily transmissible by humans, sparking a pandemic that experts predict will kill millions.
Officials Monday sought to plug holes in the city's otherwise watertight bird-flu defences after the diseased chicken was found to have been brought in across the city's fluid border with China.
Health minister York Chow said he had won agreement from his counterparts in the neighbouring southern Chinese boomtown Shenzhen to toughen bird flu defences.
He said officials would order culls of all flocks within a five-kilometre radius of any confirmed virus outbreak and added that the government would consider reducing the quota of poultry meat imported for food.
Three people who had come in contact with the chicken tested negative for flu Friday.
The scare has led to condemnation of villages that lie in the Hong Kong-Chinese border zone as the weak link in the avian flu combat measures.
The infected chicken was smuggled in, possibly unwittingly, by a villager who had given the bird to family members as a Lunar New Year holiday gift.
A border police official said police were unable to inspect all belongings of everyone moving in an out of the borderland villages.
Assistant commissioner for boundary and ports Chow Kwong said officers had stepped up border and sea patrols in response.
"Front-line customs officers have been put on high alert and examination of suspicious imported cargo and baggage has also been increased," the customs chief said.
"We have strengthened intelligence exchange with China and other customs authorities, the agriculture (department) and the food and environmental hygiene department to crack down on smuggling activities of birds and poultry," he added.
Bird flu first became lethal to humans in 1997 when it killed six people in an outbreak in Hong Kong.
Experts believe the scourge has been transmitted across the globe by migratory wild birds.
The latest scare in Hong Kong has renewed questions about whether or not China has been open about the spread of the disease within its borders.
Officials in the southern province of Guangdong say the province is bird-flu clean, however experts believe that diseased wild birds -- all local non-migratory species -- must have been infected from a nearby source.
Source: Agence France-Presse
1,500 Cholera Cases In Flood-Hit Mozambique
Maputo (AFP) Feb 07, 2006
More than 1,500 cases of cholera have been recorded in flood-stricken Mozambique, especially in the worst-hit central region, a senior health official said Tuesday.
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