Published: Sunday 15 February 1998

Doctors in Hong Kong have recently diagnosed a 19-year-old woman with the bird flu infection. With this, the total number of confirmed human cases have gone up to 16. Five people are still under observation as doctors suspect that they may also be carrying the virus.

Hong Kong's attempts to control the bird flu through mass slaughter of chickens has turned into a political and hygienic fiasco. According to reports, about 68 tonnes of chicken bodies packed in plastic bags are still lying on the sides of Hong Kong's roads (Down t o Earth , Vol 6, No 17).

Local televisions have reported that stray dogs are eating the rotten chickens. Experts fear that the decaying poultry may result in the spread of other diseases. At the same time, sightings of stray chickens across Hong Kong's rural New Territories have raised doubt about the government's claim to complete the slaughter of chickens.

Some scientists have even started questioning whether chickens were behind the bird flu infection. In this regard, they are now investigating whether ducks are the main source of H5N1 virus.

Officials in China have ruled out the possibility of bird flu infection in the mainland. But experts remain skeptical because 70 per cent of Hong Kong's chickens are imported from China. Another cause for doubt is the fact that researchers detected H5N1 among chickens in southern China in early 1997. Studies show that three of the five influenza viral strains that have killed 20 million people world-wide, can be traced to China. A WHO team would soon visit China in search of the killer virus.

Meanwhile, India has banned the import of poultry and its products as well as other birds from all the countries where avian influenza disease is prevalent. Sri Lanka has also banned the import of live birds from 17 centuries where the virus has been reported in past three years.

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