Bird flu outbreak spreads north in Taiwan

Avian flu outbreak spreads north in Taiwan from Chiayi County to Yunlin County

Epidemic prevention workers move dead birds at a poultry farm in Taiwan.(By Central News Agency)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- The bird flu outbreak in Taiwan has spread to the country's top poultry producer Yunlin County on Monday, reported Liberty Times.

A free range chicken farm in Yunlin County culled 4,000 chickens following confirmation that the H5N2 strain of the avian flu had claimed the lives of several hundred birds on the farm.

Chicken infected with the H5N6 strain from Yunlin County were also found in an illegal slaughterhouse in southern Chiayi County, and a legal slaughterhouse located in Kaohsiung City.

Diseased chickens from Yunlin County found at the Chiayi County illegal slaughterhouse were infected with the H5N6 strain, fewer than 100 chickens were found at the site.

The Kaohsiung City Animal Protection Office also received reports from a vet working at a local slaughterhouse that bird flu infection is the suspected cause of death in 550 out of 3,033 chickens from Yunlin County.

Samples have been taken from the dead chickens by the city's Animal Protection Office, followed by disinfection of the slaughterhouse to prevent further spread of the disease.

Yunlin County is Taiwan's leading poultry producer, and has the largest number of chicken, duck and goose farms.

The latest case reported in Yunlin County brings the total number of poultry farms affected by the H5N2 and H5N6 strains to 13, with the total number of birds culled at farms amounting to 127,792, according to statistics compiled by Liberty Times.

The bird flu appears to be spreading in a clockwise direction in Taiwan from Hualien County, Tainan City and now Yunlin County. Cases of infection reported in Yilan County cited the source of poultry as coming from Hualien County.

Taiwan government implements five preventive measures

In response to the avian flu outbreak, the Executive Yuan established an avian flu emergency response center and passed five new preventive measures at its first meeting on Monday.

The center is headed by Premier Lin Chuan (林全) and Council of Agriculture Minister Lin Tsung-hsien (林聰賢).

The five preventive measures approved at the meeting are monitoring poultry farms nationwide for avian flu infections, raising rewards given to farmers that report infection cases and culling birds, inspecting illegal slaughterhouses, addressing flaws in current preventive measures, and completing virus tests within one day.

During an outbreak of the bird flu virus strain H5N8 two years ago, the COA rewarded poultry farmers that reported outbreak cases by subsidizing 60 percent of their losses. The council is still discussing subsidy policies for poultry farmers that report infection cases, said Chen.

Lin said the government will consider imposing a complete ban of the shipment and slaughtering of poultry if necessary.

Veterinary expert criticizes government measures not enough

The government should ban the slaughter of poultry for one week and immediately cull birds with suspected infections to eliminate infection risks instead of waiting for virus test results, said Lai Shiow-suey (賴秀穗), an honorary professor of veterinary medicine at National Taiwan University.

Speaking to a China Times reporter, he said waiting for virus test results will take too long to curb the spread of the bird flu, and can even lead to further infections, he added. Infected birds transported long distances from farms to the test labs can spread the disease to other birds along the way.

The H5N6 strain has an incubation period of seven days before symptoms become apparent in infected birds.

When Korea was hit with its worse H5N6 outbreak last November, the government culled 33 million poultry, which was equivalent to a quarter of its poultry industry. The massive cull caused a supply shortage in eggs and poultry in the country.

Korean government even shut down zoos, and restricted access to wetlands for bird watching as part of its preventive measures.

Japan also slaughtered 1.5 million birds during the country's H5N6 outbreak last December, reported UDN.

Avian flu can be deadly for humans

Even though there are only 16 reported cases of humans contracting the bird flu globally, all from China, the virus strain has a 70 percent fatality rate in humans, according to statistics compiled by Taiwan’s Centers of Disease Control.

Early symptoms of the infection closely resemble the human influenza A virus, such as fever, runny nose, sneezing, coughing or other respiratory symptoms, said Huang Kao-bin (黃高彬), director of the infection control team at China Medical University Hospital.

However, flu symptoms quickly worsen over the next 3-5 days in H5N6 patients and develop into severe pneumonia that requires treatment in an intensive care unit, reported China Times.