I know . . . this sounds remarkably like the headlines we were seeing two years ago.
In the winter of 2009, we saw a number of decomposed chicken carcasses wash up on the beaches of Hong Kong, presumably carried to the sea via the Pearl River, which flows out of Guangdong Province, China.
Some of my blog coverage of those events included:
Chinese authorities denied knowledge of any bird flu outbreaks in Guangdong Province and eventually the number of dead birds showing up on shore declined.
Now, for the second time in just over a month (see H5N1 Infected Chicken Carcass On Hong Kong Beach), we’ve reports of badly decomposed chickens washed up on the beaches on the west end of of Lantau Island in Hong Kong.
First some excerpts from the Press Release from Hong Kong, then a few comments.
A spokesman for the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) said today (February 2) that two chicken carcasses found in Tai O were confirmed to be H5N1 positive after laboratory testing.
The chicken carcasses were found and collected at a beach near Po Chue Tam, Yeung Hau Temple, Tai O on January 28. They were highly decomposed when found and required a series of tests before H5N1 avian influenza was confirmed today.
The spokesman said there were no poultry farms within three kilometres of where the dead chickens were found. AFCD staff have conducted inspections and found no evidence of any backyard poultry being kept there. The AFCD will continue to monitor the situation and conduct inspections of the area.
A ban on backyard poultry has been in force since 2006. Unauthorised keeping of five kinds of poultry - chickens, ducks, geese, pigeons or quails - is an offence with a maximum fine of $50,000. Repeat offenders are subject to a maximum fine of $100,000.
All relevant government departments will continue to remain highly vigilant and strictly enforce preventive measures against avian influenza.
While it is possible that these birds came from a local source, their discovery on the western end of Lantau island – at the outflow of the Pearl River – is highly suggestive of a mainland China point of origin.
Hong Kong lies at the mouth of the Pearl River Delta. The Pearl River, as you can see from the map above, is fed by many tributaries flowing out of Guangdong Province, China.
Despite some direct (and a good deal of circumstantial) evidence indicating that China continues to see bird flu in wild birds and poultry, official recognition of H5N1 outbreaks is a rarity.
In addition to China’s limited surveillance and reporting capabilities, there are decided `disincentives’ for farmers and local authorities to come forth with bird flu notifications.
For a farmer, reporting dead chickens invites a major culling operation, a prolonged shutdown of operations, and inconvenient questions over biosecurity lapses.
And for local bureaucrats, sending `bad news’ up the chain of command can invite unwelcome scrutiny from officials in Beijing, an action that only rarely turns out to a good career move.
So reports of animal or human disease outbreaks, environmental pollution, adulterated food products, and other adverse events are apt to be handled `locally’.
At least, until they grow to the point that they can no longer be managed.
While we’ve no proof as to the origin of these infected carcasses, we’ll be keeping a close watch on Guangdong Province over the coming days to see if any news of a bird flu outbreak leaks out.