The announcement yesterday of the discovery of traces of H7N9 at a poultry stall at a Tuen Mun live bird market set into motion a series of aggressive steps designed to contain, and identify the source, of the infection.
The market was closed, stalls were disinfected, and the sale of live birds has been halted city-wide in Hong Kong until the source of the infected bird can be traced.
Complicating matters, however, is the fact that the positive sample was collected on May 16th, meaning that the virus has had a nearly 3 week head start.
It is unknown at this time whether the infected bird was locally produced or imported from the mainland, where avian flu outbreaks are common.
Twice in 2014 imported poultry tested positive for H7N9, setting off alarms, and forcing extended moratoriums on importation of live birds from the mainland.
A couple of updates this morning.
First comments by Hong Kong's SFH (Secretary of Food & Health) Dr. Ko Wing-man on determining the source of the virus.
SFH on avian influenza
Following is the transcript of remarks made by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr Ko Wing-man, after attending a public function today (June 5):
Reporter: (whether the positive specimen came from a local poultry farm and whether the poultry in Cheung Sha Wan Temporary Wholesale Poultry Market will be slaughtered)
Secretary for Food and Health: We are very concerned about the finding of H7N9 virus in a sample gathered in the middle of May from a stall in Tuen Mun. At the present moment, the various concerned departments still need to gather more information to facilitate their investigation. One of the major objectives is of course to trace, if possible, the source of the positive specimen; whether it actually came from a local poultry farm or from the Mainland.
We know that at present, the supply of live poultry from the Mainland stays at a very low level. However, we still cannot make a 100 percent conclusion of the source of H7N9 virus in that particular specimen.
There will be an inter-departmental meeting tomorrow. Base on the information gathered as far as possible from all concerned departments and the investigation results, we hope to make a risk assessment to determine the way forward.
(Please also refer to the Chinese portion of the transcript.)
Ends/Sunday, June 5, 2016
Issued at HKT 13:27
The standard response to the detection of H7N9 in Hong Kong poultry is to halt the sale, transportation, and/or importation of poultry for 21 days while farms are tested, markets are sterilized, and an investigation into the source is completed.
This positive sample was collected 20 days ago, and no other tests have come back positive, raising questions over just how long this moratorium should be imposed.
Tomorrow (June 6th), a meeting will be held to discuss their options going forward.
June 05, 2016An inter-departmental meeting will be held tomorrow to determine how long live poultry sales should be suspended.
Secretary for Food & Health Dr Ko Wing-man said today the Government is very concerned about the finding of the H7N9 virus in a sample gathered from a market stall in Tuen Mun.
Government departments are gathering more information to trace the source of the virus.
Experts will make a risk assessment based on information gathered at the meeting to determine the way forward, including whether to slaughter live poultry at Cheung Sha Wan Temporary Wholesale Poultry Market, he added.
Since H7N9 produces no visible symptoms in poultry, and it is physically impossible to swab and test every healthy looking bird, environmental testing of farms and markets is an attractive option.
Rapid tests can be used on site, but they aren't all that accurate, meaning that some infections can't be picked up until more sensitive lab tests can be performed.
Unfortunately, when it takes nearly 3 weeks to get those results, their value is significantly diminished.