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Hong Kong Keeps Ban on Some Poultry Imports Due to Avian Flu Tie

Jan. 4 (Bloomberg) -- Poultry imports from the part of southern China where a man died from the H5N1 virus remain banned in Hong Kong after genetic tests linked the man’s strain of the disease to the version found in wild birds in the city.

The import of live, chilled and frozen poultry, and eggs, from within a 13-kilometer (8-mile) radius of the man’s home in Shenzhen were suspended for 21 days starting Jan. 1, according to a Centre for Food Safety statement posted on New Year’s Day.

“It’s always the wild birds, then the poultry, then the humans,” Yuen Kwok-yung, chairman of infectious diseases at the University of Hong Kong’s department of microbiology, said in a phone interview yesterday. Events are following the typical sequence for a zoonosis, a disease that jumps to humans from animals, he said.

Avian flu is a serious public health concern with the potential to cause a pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. Since 2003, more than 500 people have been infected with the H5N1 strain worldwide, of whom about 60 percent have died, according to the Atlanta-based agency.

Gene sequencing done on samples from the patient in Shenzhen shows the virus is “very similar” to strains recently detected in wild birds in Hong Kong, according to an e-mail from the city’s Department of Health yesterday.

Two dead black-headed gulls found in Tuen Mun and Lantau Island in Hong Kong tested positive for the virus, according to a government statement yesterday. The birds were found Dec. 30 and Jan. 1. The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department is conducting further tests on the animals.

The mutated virus can’t be transmitted from human to human, Radio Television Hong Kong said Jan. 2, citing Wu Chunli, a technician at the Shenzhen Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Surveillance System

Hong Kong slaughtered 19,451 birds, including more than 15,000 chickens, on Dec. 21 after the H5N1 virus was found in a chicken carcass at a local wholesale market.

Based on sequencing results, a compound called amantadine may be effective against the virus. Results of the effectiveness of Roche Holding AG’s Tamiflu as a treatment are pending, Hong Kong’s Department of Health said.

Public hospitals in the city activated the “serious” response level and enhanced surveillance after the government discovered the infected chicken carcass.

“The system of surveillance in Hong Kong works very well,” HKU’s Yuen said.“You should not be unduly concerned but you really have to be careful and obey some simple measures,” including not touching wild and dead birds, and boiling food before eating, he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Natasha Khan in Hong Kong at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Frank Longid at; Jason Gale at

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