Thursday, May 8, 2014, 08:39
Mainland urged to implement tougher flu controls
By Kahon Chan in Hong Kong

Mainland urged to implement tougher flu controls
A screenshot of Secretary for Food and Health Ko Wing-man who met the media on May 7, 2014. (Photo / news.gov.hk) 

Other places in China selling live poultry need to boost their control measures against bird flu to prevent further human infections, Secretary for Food and Health Ko Wing-man said on Wednesday.

Ko was talking to reporters after the first-known human infection of H5N6 strain of avian flu was reported in Sichuan.

A 49-year-old farmer living in Nanchong, Sichuan, recently died from acute pneumonia after coming into contact with dead poultry. The Sichuan authorities reported on Tuesday that his death was linked to the H5N6 strain of avian influenza A.

Ko said the H5N6 finding has followed a line-up of first human infections reported on the mainland and Taiwan since March 2013, namely H6N1, H10N8 and H7N9. The last one developed into a nationwide pandemic.

Hong Kong has established risk management and prevention measures since the first human infections of influenza A (H5N1) in 1997. But Ko said tougher controls from Hong Kong’s neighbors were still needed.

“I believe other places with the presence of live poultry are also in need of these measures, or else human infections by different strains of avian influenza will keep happening,” he explained.

The Centre for Health Protection has also made a formal request to mainland authorities for information on the latest H5N6 case, Ko said.

He said the most sought after information was the H5N6’s viral genome. This information could provide experts with an essential lead to investigate its pathogenicity and potential response to a vaccine.

Ko said the effectiveness of a vaccine could have been undermined by mutation of the H5N6 strain or inconsistent implementation of vaccination schemes at poultry farms on the mainland or Hong Kong.

Microbiologists at the University of Hong Kong, including Ho Pak-leung, Yuen Kwok-yung and Guan Yi, have all suggested a gene mutation. This is because the H5N6 virus had only been associated with low pathogenicity and infection of waterfowls.

Guan speculated the H5N6 strain has gained its deadly traits from the H5N1 virus.

The city is supposed to resume imports of live poultry from the mainland from June, upon completion of a quarantine facility at Ta Kwu Ling.