Friday, 5 April 2013

Avian Flu Fears Hit Hong Kong

Hong Kong has its first suspected case of avian flu, a new strain called H7N9 after a girl showed flu-like symptoms after coming to contact with birds in Shanghai.

So far six people in China have died of avian flu, from 16 cases that apparently started in Shanghai and spread to Jiangsu province, Nanjing, Zhejiang, and Anhui. The latest fatality was a 64-year-old farmer from Huzhou, Zhejiang.

A few days ago Hong Kong was already on a heightened state of alert, though at the time Secretary for Food and Health Ko Wing-man advised the public to be vigilant, but not scared.

However, with this girl's case, the city is going to step up measures, particularly in monitoring poultry and taking people's temperatures in the airport and border.

It is frightening to hear about this new strain and how we have to be careful about where we go and what we eat.

Already the poultry industry in Hong Kong was hurt by previous avian flu outbreaks over the years and now another one will make things difficult for poultry farmers yet again.

But also one has to wonder what Beijing is doing to monitor the situation, if at all. Much like the milk powder scandal in 2008, nothing substantial has been done since then to tackle the serious issue of how milk is collected and then processed and packaged.

It's also scary to hear it took Chinese officials a while to confirm the avian flu cases because they weren't sure... where is the education and expertise? Perhaps the government also had a hand in covering up the news and only wanting to release information if it was indeed positive...

Time is of the essence here; while the Chinese government has improved significantly in terms of dealing with these kinds of health issues, it still needs to speed up its response because lives are at stake, not to mention the economy.

And also education. This is my repeated refrain -- the Chinese public need to be educated on basic hygiene -- not just that you should wash your hands with soap, but why this is necessary.

Then there needs to be education and regulation on how people rear and keep chickens in China so that we can keep better track of them. It's just like the 16,000 pigs floating in the Huangpu River in Shanghai; because there is no regulation, officials still haven't figured out where exactly they came from and how they ended up in the river.

In the meantime Hong Kong people will probably think twice about going to China on leisure trips now, as well as eating chicken for a while because they come from across the border (unless you eat at a French restaurant and have chicken from Bresse).

I say we promote eating turkey instead -- it's imported, has much more protein and tastes better too!

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