Earlier this week, in Hong Kong Releases A Poultry Plan, we looked at a detailed plan called Study on the Way Forward of Live Poultry Trade in Hong Kong, that essentially tries to preserve live poultry sales in Hong Kong, while promising to protect the public against avian flu.
As I pointed out on Monday, this controversial plan was largely developed before this year's massive uptick in H7N9 infections in China, and the emergence of a new LPAI lineage (Yangtze River Delta) and a new HPAI strain of the virus.
There's clear evidence that live bird markets offer high a risk environment for avian flu exposure to the public (see CDC: Risk Factors Involved With H7N9 Infection), enough that in 2014 their CDC (and ours) urged:
Exposures to poultry in markets were associated with A(H7N9) virus infection, even without poultry contact. China should consider permanently closing live poultry markets or aggressively pursuing control measures to prevent spread of this emerging pathogen.
Also, as we've discussed often over the past few years (see The Lancet: Interventions To Reduce Zoonotic & Pandemic Risks From Avian Flu In Asia), by bringing together - into very close quarters - many different types of avian species (chickens, ducks, geese, quail, etc.) these markets provide an ideal environment for two or more avian viruses to infect the same host, which can drive reassortment, and the creation of new flu subtypes.
Despite evidence that it would greatly reduce the risk to the public, closing LMBs (Live Bird Markets) has been a tough sell to the Chinese public. Purchasing live market birds is deeply ingrained in their culture, as it reassures the buyer that the bird is both fresh and healthy.
All of which makes the decision to close markets permanently a political hot potato. The Hong Kong poultry plan - put up for public comment earlier this week - was designed with that in mind.
Today the South China Morning Post (SCMP) has a scathing editorial on this plan, which blasts the government's lack of political will to tackle a serious threat. Follow the link below to read:
Enough tiptoeing around the problem of bird flu
Successive governments have shied away from taking tough decisions on the safety of live poultry, but it’s time to put the issue to rest once and for all
PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 April, 2017, 1:19am
While Hong Kong's live bird markets - being small in number and already tightly controlled - undoubtedly pose less of a risk to the public's health than the thousands of less stringently regulated markets on the Mainland - if rational policies are to take hold - they have to start somewhere.
Hopefully Hong Kong can find the political will to show the way forward.