Thursday, August 23, 2012

Hong Kong Press Release: SFH inspects avian influenza and influenza prevention and control measures (with photos)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012
Issued at HKT 20:35

[editing is mine]

The Secretary for Food and Health, Dr Ko Wing-man, today (August 22) inspected a chicken farm in Yuen Long, the Cheung Sha Wan Temporary Wholesale Poultry Market and the Hospital Authority Infectious Disease Centre to learn more about measures taken by front-line staff and the trade to prevent and control avian influenza (AI) and influenza.

     Dr Ko visited a chicken farm in Yuen Long to understand more about the use of AI vaccines in local chicken farms. He then visited the Cheung Sha Wan Temporary Wholesale Poultry Market to see for himself the AI prevention and control measures there. To reduce the risk of AI outbreaks in Hong Kong, the Government has been adopting a comprehensive preventive and surveillance programme, including tight biosecurity measures and vaccination at local farms, import control and stringent hygiene requirements at wholesale and retail markets. 

     Dr Ko said the Government had analysed various scientific data earlier this year. The data indicate that the local risk of AI, especially the risk of human infection, remains at a stable and low level, and that the current AI prevention and control measures that have been adopted at different levels are effective.

     "However, relative to last year, the number of dead wild birds that have tested positive for H5N1 has increased this year. In June this year, the H5N1 virus was detected from a swab sample collected in the Yuen Po Street Bird Garden in Mong Kok, reflecting that a certain degree of AI risk still exists in the natural environment. An imported human infection case was recorded this year. We think there is a need to raise our alertness and step up precautionary measures against AI," he said.

     Dr Ko pointed out that apart from continuing with all the prevention and control measures, the Government would step up surveillance before the coming winter season. For example, surprise inspections would be conducted in local poultry farms and pet bird shops, more samples for tests on AI would be collected from wholesale poultry markets and retail outlets, and measures to combat illegal importation of live birds at boundary control points would also be enhanced.

     Dr Ko said that, for better protection against AI viruses in local chickens, the Government had conducted a review of the AI vaccine currently used in local chicken farms. 

     He said, "The H5N2 AI vaccine has been used in local farms since the introduction of the mandatory vaccination programme for chickens in 2003. Due to variants of viruses, new AI vaccines have been developed. We need to monitor the development and introduce new vaccines in a timely manner.

     "The Harbin Veterinary Research Institute has developed a new Re-6 H5N1 AI vaccine (Re-6 vaccine) targeting the prevailing clade of AI virus commonly found in the region. The Re-6 vaccine has just been introduced on the Mainland and successfully registered in Hong Kong. With the agreement from the experts in the Investigation Group on Vaccine Study, we have decided to introduce Re-6 vaccine in local chicken farms. We are now actively communicating with the Mainland authority to learn more about the use of Re-6 vaccine on the Mainland and to discuss arrangements for supplying the vaccine to Hong Kong. We hope to introduce the new Re-6 vaccine for use in local chicken farms before the end of this year."

     Dr Ko then went to the Princess Margaret Hospital to inspect its isolation facilities for infectious diseases and their operation. He thanked the front-line medical staff for their continuous hard work. At the same time, Dr Ko reminded them to get prepared for the upcoming winter flu season.

     He told the medical staff that the Government had updated the Government Preparedness Plan for Influenza Pandemic. 

     Having regard to past experience and relevant guidelines by the World Health Organization, the Government has updated the plan. Covering influenza pandemic by various sources, the updated plan maintains the three response levels, which have proved to be effective. However, the use of "specific scenario" as criteria for activation of each response level has been replaced by "risk assessment". This enables the Government to be more flexible and effective in the activation of an appropriate response level and in adopting appropriate response measures. More information about the updated plan has been uploaded to the webpage of the Centre for Health Protection (CHP) at

     Dr Ko added that vaccination is an effective way to prevent infectious diseases. The CHP announced earlier this month details of the influenza vaccination subsidy schemes for this year. To encourage more people in need to receive influenza vaccinations, the Government will increase the subsidy for childhood influenza vaccination. Dr Ko called on members of the public to bring the elderly and children for influenza vaccination before the arrival of the winter flu season.

     Dr Ko believes that the Government policies and measures against AI, including surveillance for AI and emergency planning, could effectively prevent outbreaks of AI and influenza. However, the threat of AI risk still exists. He reminded the entire society, including the Government, the trade and the general public, to stay alert, upkeep good practices in personal and environmental hygiene, and remain vigilant in taking measures to prevent AI.

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