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Agriculture agency denies covering up bird flu outbreak

Agriculture agency denies covering up bird flu outbreak

Taipei, March 5 (CNA) Taiwan's top agricultural agency said Monday that it did not cover up an outbreak of bird flu, noting that it had followed standard procedure in handling the recent outbreak of the H5N2 avian influenza. On Saturday, the Cabinet-level Council of Agriculture confirmed the first outbreak of the highly pathogenic H5N2 avian influenza, which has led to 57,500 chickens culled in southern Taiwan's Tainan and central Taiwan's Changhua areas. The highly pathogenic H5N2 avian influenza refers to a highly contagious disease with a higher fatality rate. The council, however, was accused by a local documentary filmmaker of delaying the reporting of the bird flu outbreak and trying to conceal the outbreak. But on Monday, Huang Kwo-ching, deputy director-general of the council's Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine, rebutted the accusation, saying that the council needed to await the results of lab tests and weigh other factors. Huang said the council had carried out an inspection and ran tests after learning that an egg-laying chicken farm in Changhua reported an outbreak of the disease on Dec. 27, 2011. "After the preliminary results came out, we reported it to the World Organization for Animal Health Jan. 10," Huang said, citing this as evidence that the council was not trying to hide a potential outbreak of bird flu. However, one day after the confirmation of the outbreak of bird flu, Hsu Tien-lai, director general of the bureau, tendered his resignation, which was later approved. Wang Cheng-teng, the council's vice minister, however, said Hsu resigned as a result of the public panic that ensued upon news of the outbreaks. Meanwhile, to make a final judgment on whether the outbreak was caused by a highly pathogenic H5N2 strain, two factors must be taken into consideration -- the lab test results and the actual fatality rate of chickens, Huang said. Although the virus was confirmed in the lab tests, Huang said, the fatality rate for the chickens at the Changhua farm was around 0.05 percent, lower than the normal fatality rate. But on Feb. 7, 2012, the H5N2 infections were detected at the farm in Tainan. After running follow-up tests, the council discovered a fatality rate of 17 percent among chickens at the Tainan farm, Huang said. Citing the results, "the experts invited to our meetings on the issue reached a consensus" that the two cases needed to be considered together, Huang said. On the basis of risk control, the council decided to announce the confirmation of the outbreak of the H5N2 avian influenza, Huang said. Wang said no case of humans infected with the H5N2 avian influenza has been discovered in Taiwan or in other countries. "The disease is highly contagious among livestock," Wang added. Echoing Wang's remarks, Chou Jih-haw, deputy director general of the Centers for Disease Control, said there is no safety issue regarding chickens and eggs. They are safe to eat, "as long as they are fully cooked," Chou said. Chou said the health department will keep monitoring the situation to see if there are further cases of the H5N2 avian influenza. (By Elaine Hou)


Updated : 2021-05-08 10:24 GMT+08:00