Avian flu hits Japanese prefecture

PHOTO: Avian flu hits Japanese prefecture

KUMAMOTO - Kumamoto Prefecture is culling more than 110,000 chickens after the farm ministry and prefectural government identified the highly pathogenic H5 avian influenza virus in a large number of chickens found dead at a poultry farm in Taragi, Kumamoto Prefecture, on Sunday.

The prefectural government planned to cull a total of 112,000 chickens at the Taragi farm and at another farm in the nearby village of Sagara. The prefecture has also prohibited the transport of chickens and eggs within a three-kilometer radius of the two farms, which are operated by the same owner.

This type of highly pathogenic avian influenza is caused by such viruses as the H5 type and has high mortality rates among infected chickens and ducks.

The virus is believed to be spread by migratory birds and small animals, and by attaching itself to people and objects. The virus becomes inert when heated, according to the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry.

This is the first bird flu infection reported at a Japanese poultry farm since the last cases were reported in March 2011 in Chiba Prefecture, the ministry said. The ministry and the prefecture each established task forces on Sunday to deal with the situation. The National Institute of Animal Health is conducting a thorough investigation to determine the strain of the virus.

The Taragi and Sagara farms are about 10 kilometers apart, and about 56,000 poultry chickens were kept at each farm. However, about 200 chickens died between Friday morning and Saturday morning at the Taragi farm and a person associated with the farm informed the prefecture on Saturday afternoon.

A simple test performed on Friday night found that six of the 10 dead birds tested positive for bird flu. A genetic test, carried out afterward, found two of the birds had contracted the H5 type virus.

Because the farms are operated by the same owner, chickens could have been moved between the two farms. In response to the situation, an area where transfers of chickens and eggs are prohibited was set up.

The prefecture is also restricting the transfer of chickens and eggs within a 10-kilometer radius of two farms, designating the zone as a transfer restriction zone. About 398,000 chickens are kept by 42 farmers in this larger area.

The two zones cover parts of nine municipalities, according to the prefecture.

Kumamoto Gov. Ikuo Kabashima has asked the Self-Defence Forces to send personnel to the prefecture on a disaster relief mission.

The prefecture started culling chickens at the two farms at 10:30 a.m. Sunday. By 8 a.m. on Monday, more than 70 per cent of the chickens, or about 82,000 had been killed. The prefectural government aimed to finish culling work by the end of the day.

The prefectural government set up disinfection checkpoints on national and other roads around the two farms. Passing vehicles, primarily those driven by people involved in the livestock industry, were subject to disinfection.