Exercise `Camellia’ - Credit HK Govt.
While the proliferation and spread of bird flu viruses is a global concern, you’d be hard pressed to find any place that takes it more seriously than does Hong Kong. Being an international city, located on the eastern coast of China, puts them uniquely in harm’s way.
Hong Kong not only import millions of live chickens each year from Guangdong province, they also receive nearly 200,000 visitors each day, the vast majority of whom come from the Chinese mainland, where most avian flu infections have been reported.
Add in the fact they lie under the East Asian-Australasian Flyway, and get non-migratory avian visitors from the mainland as well, and you have a recipe for frequent encounters with bird flu.
Prior to 2013, H5N1 was Hong Kong’s primary avian flu concern, with the first known human outbreak occurring there in 1997, infecting 18 and killing 6. After a massive culling operation - which destroyed every chicken in the territory – H5N1 went to ground, only to re-emerge in China in 2003 and begin to spread.
By 2006, it was reported in parts of Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
In recent years H5N1 has been joined by a `stealth’ H7N9 virus, which sickens (and even kills) humans but leaves birds unaffected, H5N6, which is pathogenic to humans and birds, and a `new generation’ of HPAI H5 viruses (H5N8, H5N2, H5N3) which have heavily impacted poultry in Korea, China, Taiwan, Japan, and even the United States.
Other AI contenders, recently identified include H10N8, H5N9, H5N5, H6N1, along with a growing array of H7 (Low and High Path) viruses.
Each year, it seems, we add another reassortant virus (or two) to the list,.and even more genotypes and clades of existing viruses. Some pose human health threats, while others are only (currently) a threat to poultry.
The bottom line, if you are engaged either in public health or agricultural food safety in Hong Kong, you’re on the front lines each and every winter.
After their battle against the SARS epidemic of 2003 (see SARS And Remembrance) - which saw 1750 of their residents and infected (and 286 deaths) - Hong Kong’s government has become one of the most drilled and best prepared in the world for dealing with infectious disease outbreaks.
As part of their ongoing preparedness efforts, yesterday, Hong Kong’s AFCD held a major bird flu exercise .
The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) today (October 27) carried out an exercise codenamed "Camellia" to review the department's preparedness in case a poultry culling operation is required in response to an outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza in Hong Kong.
The exercise provided a scenario for staff of departments that need to take part in the culling operation to familiarise themselves with the work procedures and biosecurity measures necessary for carrying out the operation, such as procedures for wearing and removing protective gear as well as the disinfection and disposal of carcasses.
A field command centre and a mock chicken farm were set up at the exercise venue for participants to carry out their frontline duties, which included mobilising staff and resources, setting up different operation areas in the index farm, and following personal biosecurity guidelines when entering and leaving the index farm.
Accompanied by the Director of Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation, Dr Leung Siu-fai, the Acting Secretary for Food and Health, Professor Sophia Chan, and the Permanent Secretary for Food and Health (Food), Mrs Cherry Tse, observed the frontline operations.
Professor Chan stressed the importance of putting in place the contingency response plan to ensure the AFCD's preparedness and readiness in case a culling operation in Hong Kong is necessary.
"Avian influenza outbreaks still occur in different parts of the world from time to time. In addition to H5N1 and H7N9, there were cases of other types of avian influenza as well. In view of this, we must not take it lightly.
"While the Government continues to implement diligently the prevention and control measures, I urge the poultry trade and the general public to remain vigilant and help guard against the avian influenza virus," said Professor Chan.
Professor Chan pointed out that apart from rolling forward various prevention and control measures, the Government had also stepped up surveillance before the winter season. These measures include conducting surprise inspections targeting local poultry farms and pet bird shops, the collection of more samples from the wholesale poultry market and retail outlets for tests on avian influenza, and enhanced actions to combat the illegal importation of live birds at boundary control points.
Some 100 staff members of the AFCD, the Centre for Health Protection of the Department of Health and the Civil Aid Service took part in the exercise. Professor Chan thanked them for their efforts and positive contributions to the smooth running of the exercise.
The AFCD has notified the World Organisation for Animal Health of the exercise.
Ends/Tuesday, October 27, 2015
Issued at HKT 14:35