H5N2 avian flu strikes Taiwan

PHOTO: H5N2 avian flu strikes Taiwan

TAIPEI - Taiwan has reported its first outbreak of the highly pathogenic H5N2 avian influenza, with almost 58,000 chickens culled in two farms, agricultural authorities confirmed yesterday.

About 53,000 chickens in a Changhua County farm were culled yesterday morning, while another 4,500 in another farm in Tainan met the same fate on Feb. 10, the Council of Agriculture (COA) said.

The COA said it has already reported the outbreak to the World Organization of Animal Health (OIE) but there are no signs that the bird flu has spread to other farms.

A ban has been imposed on all poultry product exports, which could incur losses of about NT$600 million, the COA said.

The COA maintained that the H5N2 virus does not affect human health.

The COA said it first received a dead chicken sent from the egg-laying farm in Changhua on Dec. 27, 2011, and lab tests later determined that it died of the highly pathogenic H5N2 bird flu.

But the decision to cull the birds at the Changhua farm was not made until Friday, the COA said.

It attributed the belated move to time needed to confirm that the chickens that showed atypical symptoms were indeed infected with the highly pathogenic virus.

The cases in Tainan were detected on Feb. 7 this year, with its chickens all culled on Feb. 10, according to the COA.

But an activist who has been tracking flu in Taiwan accused the COA of trying to conceal the outbreak.

Lee Hui-jen, who has made an award-winning documentary on alleged cover-ups by Taiwan's officials and farmers in the face the H5N2 virus, said the COA should have culled the Changhua chickens after confirming the outbreak in January.

He said he was the one who sent the dead chicken from the Changhua farm to the COA in December. He said he became suspicious after egg prices soared.

Before the control measures were imposed, the Changhua farm had still been allowed to deliver eggs to the market without any disinfection done, the United Evening News cited unnamed officials as saying.

But the COA maintained that during the outbreak all eggs from the Changhua farm were disinfected before delivery.

Unlike the H5N1 bird flu virus that has both sickened and killed people, the H5N2 strand does not affect humans, the COA maintained.

None of the three farmers and six inspectors who came into contact with the infected chickens in the latest outbreak showed symptoms of infection, said the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

Further tests have shown that they do not carry the virus, the CDC added.

Taiwan reported its first low-pathogenic H5N2 outbreak in 2004, with chickens from about 20 farms culled, the COA said.

The local chicken farm association said poultry product exports may be affected by the latest outbreak, but the impact may be limited if the disease control is effective.

Poultry meat is one of the country's top poultry product exports, with a value of NT$360-NT$370 million per year, said Hsu Kuei-sen, director of the COA's animal husbandry division.

Other exports being affected by the export ban include preserved eggs, salted duck eggs, raw eggs and pet birds, Hsu added.

Taiwan's poultry exports could resume after no H5N2 case appear for three months.

The Changhua farmer is expected to receive compensation of NT$7.5 million for the culled chickens, the United Evening News said.

Local egg prices are unlikely to be affected by the outbreak, as the Changhua farm accounts for only a small portion of the supply chain, agricultural officials in the central county were cited as saying.