Bird flu epidemic expands to Eastern Taiwan

Bird flu epidemic expands to Eastern Taiwan
Agriculture personnel cull geese at a local farm in Taiwan's southern Chiayi county on January 11, 2015. Taiwan ordered the slaughter of 16,000 geese and ducks to try to curb a bird flu outbreak that has already led to the culling of 120,000 chickens.

A chicken farm located in Hualien County that raises "silky fowl" chickens (烏骨雞) was identified as the first poultry farm in Eastern Taiwan to be infected with the H5 strains of bird flu, according to the Council of Agriculture (COA) yesterday.

According to a COA report issued Wednesday night, the number of chicken farms experiencing mysterious deaths increased to 12 in just one day.

Among the 12 was one farm in Hualien, marking the bird flu's first reported transmission in Eastern Taiwan.

From the beginning of the outbreak, the COA and county governments have tried to contain the epidemic to the western part of the island by setting up checkpoints on routes headed toward Hualien and Taitung.

The Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine (BAPHIQ) stated yesterday that a total of 389 poultry farms have been sampled, with 330 of them confirmed to have been infected by the new sub-strain of H5 bird flu.

BAPHIQ estimates that approximately one million birds have either died from infection or slaughter by order of the COA.

Since the beginning of the epidemic coverage, much attention has been given to infected waterfowl, however the COA's Wednesday report identifying 12 new chicken farms has raised additional concern about chickens.

BAPHIQ chief Chang Shu-hsian (張淑賢) stated that the bureau is currently processing samples from 20 chicken farms, of which six tested positive for the new strain and the remaining two for the old strain. Chang said the remaining 12 are still under examination.

Chang indicated that BAPHIQ will announce new epidemic prevention measures today to prepare for further expansion of the disease in chickens across the country.

According to accounts from the chicken farm owner in Hualien County released in BAPHIQ's report, the chicken farm has approximately 500 birds remaining and has lost one third of its livestock over the past month.

Chang indicated that the COA has requested the Hualien farm owner to implement a 3-kilometer buffer zone around the farm, as Taiwan's central mountain range is no longer believed to be a sufficient barrier to prevent the disease's rampage.

Chang reminded that the Hualien farm must attain a health certificate issued by a licensed veterinarian.

Virus Did Not Evolve within Taiwan: AHRI

The COA's Animal Health Research Institute (AHRI, 家畜衛生試驗所) yesterday released the eight-stage genetic sequencing data for the H5N2 and H5N8 strains affecting ducks and geese.

After thorough comparison, AHRI's data indicated that the sixth gene in the sequence that contains the virus is most similar to the bird flu strains found previously in mainland China, Japan and South Korea.

Chang stated that these strains were seen for the first time in Taiwan, running against scholars' predictions that the bird flu strain evolved within Taiwan.

The Hualien County Government stated yesterday that in face of the epidemic spreading to Hualien County, the local government will strengthen routine immunization checks at poultry farms.

The government said that appropriate testing was not carried out in the initial stages of the outbreak in Hualien.

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