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Hong Kong Residents Confident of Chicken Safety Despite Bird Flu - 2004-01-27


Avian influenza first jumped to humans in Hong Kong in 1997, resulting in an unprecedented culling of millions of chickens and widespread panic. But many consumers in Hong Kong today are unfazed with the current outbreak of bird flu in Asia.

A chicken dish is usually the centerpiece of most Chinese meals, especially during celebratory occasions such as the recent Chinese Lunar New Year.

This year has been no different despite a new outbreak of avian influenza throughout Asia.

Many consumers in Hong Kong say they are confident the chickens sold here are safe.

A man, who is shopping in a local wet market Tuesday, says there is nothing to be afraid of. He says he will eat chicken as he pleases. A housewife, visiting the same market, says she is being more cautious. She says Hong Kong does not have bird flu but she will not serve imported frozen poultry.

Avian influenza first jumped to humans in Hong Kong in 1997. It sickened 18 people, killing six. Experts say the rapid slaughter of millions of chickens averted a bigger health disaster. Since then, Hong Kong has implemented strict measures on chicken farms and in markets.

All chickens in local poultry farms and those imported from China are vaccinated. Markets are also closed for compulsory cleaning twice a month.

So far the bird flu has struck nine Asian countries and there have been deaths in Vietnam and Thailand. Hong Kong however has been spared at the moment.

To some chicken traders here, the prospect of another bird flu outbreak in Hong Kong would deal a severe blow to an already struggling industry.

The owner of the Sun Wor Lung live chicken shop in the Wanchai district says the poultry industry has not recovered since 1997. He says he still barely breaks even each month.

In a place that is still counting the cost from last year's outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, health officials assured the public the government is vigilant against bird flu.

"We are also watching for possible mutation of the virus to make sure our vaccines continue to be effective," said Health Secretary Yeoh Eng-kiong.

Some residents fear that it might be a matter of time before the virus reappears in the territory. Earlier this month, agriculture authorities found a dead wild bird with H5N1 virus close to a chicken farm.

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