Experts call for end to HK live poultry markets

HONG KONG - Experts renewed calls on Wednesday for a quick end to an age-old practice of selling live poultry in Hong Kong after a baby picked up a mild form of bird flu from a market.
calendar icon 22 March 2007
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The baby was not infected with the H5N1 bird flu virus but the latest case underscored intense unease in the crowded city over the threat from bird flu after H5N1 made the first known jump to humans in Hong Kong in 1997, killing six people.

The grandmother of the nine-month-old girl had taken her to a neighbourhood wet market every day in the week before she fell ill, and a senior health official said on Tuesday the baby had probably contracted the H9N2 virus during these visits.

H9 viruses are commonly found in Hong Kong's live poultry markets, but humans have only been known to have been infected by them on two other occasions in the city. Two girls were infected in 1999 and a boy in 2003. All have since recovered.

Although the infant has also recovered, experts say the incident highlights the need to get rid of live poultry stalls in Hong Kong's wet markets -- a fixture in most neighbourhoods in the crowded city.

"The only gap in our defence against bird flu is the wet market. This shows humans can get infected in such a setting. Something must be done to the poultry stalls in our markets," said Lo Wing-lok, an infectious disease expert.

Calls to replace live poultry stalls with a central abbatoir began as early as 1997 after H5N1 infected 18 people in Hong Kong and led to the mass culling of the city's poultry.

But resistance from business groups has stalled government plans to get a central abbatoir up and running by 2010.

Source: Reuters UK

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