Had a bit of correspondence w HK food n hygiene bureau, after I sent missive complaining re latest Mai Po Nature Reserve closure [after a dead egret/heron w h5n1 was found nearby], saying it was knee jerk reaction.

Joyce Kok replied, inc:

the fact that HPAI virus can be transmitted from wild birds to humans directly or indirectly through contaminatedmaterials.

I replied:

“HPAI virus can be transmitted from wild birds to humans directly or indirectly through contaminated materials.”

– any evidence for this.


thought not

– and eventually received:

Thank you for your two emails dated 10 March 2008 and thanks again for your
concern on the control of avian influenza measures.

The H5N1 virus we isolated from wild birds in Hong Kong has so far proved
to be highly pathogenic avian influenza virus which can be lethal. As we
could not ignore the possibility that the virus could be transmitted from
wild birds to humans directly or indirectly through contaminated materials,
it would be necessary for the administration to introduce measures to
reduce such risk.

We are sorry for any inconvenience caused to you during the closure of Mai
Po Nature Reserve.

to which, I’ve just responded:

Thank you for your email, in which you support my belief there is no scientific basis for closing Mai Po because a dead bird or two with H5N1 has been found nearby.

“we could not ignore the possibility that the virus could be transmitted from wild birds to humans directly or indirectly through contaminated materials”
– this is vague and woolly minded. Not remotely scientific.

As is clear from evidence worldwide, the H5N1 variant of concern is primarily a poultry disease. And whilst the administration has done much to reduce the incidence in local poultry, and associated markets (such as the bird market), we have not lately seen such draconian measures as closure taken recently.

As you should be aware, no wild bird species is known to be capable of surviving, sustaining and spreading H5N1 poultry flu.
It is highly lethal to wild birds, so an infected bird soon sickens, and dies, swiftly ending a potential chain of transmission.

Despite extensive testing, not one apparently healthy wild bird has tested positive for H5N1 poultry flu in Hong Kong.
The dead wild (and “wild” – for some individuals surely or probably from captivity) birds found in Hong Kong that tested positive for h5n1 have been from scattered locations. Despite the bird concentrations at Mai Po, and surveillance there, is it just one case from Mai Po over the years? – in turn, suggesting H5N1 is rare in wild birds, but overwhelmingly outside the reserve.
You might wish to consider just how and where these birds may have contracted the virus – scavenging dead, dumped poultry (smuggled in, so with chance of h5n1), or infected songbirds from captivity?

Especially with birdwatching not involving contact with wild birds, and no case worldwide (that I’m aware of) of a person thought to have contracted h5n1 from a wild bird, there is and was no discernible risk to Mai Po visitors.

Thus, knee-jerk reaction would indeed seem an appropriate description for the Mai Po closures.

I’ve also sent Joyce a copy of my article on the Tooth Fairy Bird: the much mooted yet never discovered bird species that can survive and sustain and spread h5n1 poultry flu.

Updated: received this from Joyce on 8 April:

Thank you for your emails dated 21 and 25 March 2008.

As mentioned in my email dated 18 March 2008, the H5N1 virus isolated from
wild birds in Hong Kong have been proved to be lethal. It was similar to
the type of virus that have infected people and caused fatality in
different countries. This is the scientific basis for the in-house experts
to assess the situation for the development of different measures to
prevent avian influenza outbreak in Hong Kong.

We hope you would appreciate that, being a responsible Government, we have
the responsibility to introduce appropriate measures to reduce the risk of
avian influenza outbreak in Hong Kong. The Agriculture, Fisheries and
Conservation Department (AFCD) are responsible for providing opinions in
mapping out preventive and control measures against the spread of the avian
influenza. We understand that the AFCD has met with the representatives of
the World Wide Fund Hong Kong (WWFHK) in March 2008 and exchanged views on
the existing precautionary measures against avian influenza with regard to
the Mai Po Natural Reserve.

– and only just responded (now 27 May):

Thank you for your latest email, in our somewhat erratic correspondence.

Isn’t it true that the virus from wild birds in HK is similar to a virus proven to be lethal to humans: no one has (I hope!) injected the actual virus into humans to see how it affects them?

Anyway, even if virus in dead wild birds can indeed prove lethal to humans, this in itself is flimsy as basis for closing Mai Po.

Has H5N1 even been found at Mai Po, despite extensive monitoring for dead birds, testing in healthy wild birds there? If not, surely science would say Mai Po is one of the safest places in Hong Kong.
Safer, by far, than a place like Tuen Mun.

I trust the “in-house experts” make regular visits to places like Mai Po, observing wild birds in bid to understand the situation. I greatly hope they are indeed expert on the issues, having read information such as I have sent you, and presented – at length – on my H5N1 and wild birds forum; I hope these experts publish in respected academic journals, showing their extensive knowledge of viruses, wild birds, and evolution – which, as these experts appreciate, are all important when considering H5N1 and wild birds.
I hope the “in-house experts” do not simply remain in house, shunning debate.

Indeed, AFCD officials have met Mai Po staff regarding H5N1 and wild birds; however, they could be no more than intermediaries for the “in-house experts” – who perhaps seem rather fond of using intermediaries to interact with the world.
It remains deeply sad that there have not been direct discussions between FHB and Mai Po staff.

You know, some folk might feel a little cynical here, and suggest Mai Po is just an easy target – easily closed, by FHB seeking to take some action in response to H5N1: action that does not target poultry industry, which as we all know is the source of the H5N1 poultry flu viruses.

At least now, we’re seeing H5N1 does not look to be a threat to humanity. As your “in-house experts” will readily explain, this follows from science, predictable from theories on evolution and flu, which also explain why wild bird flus are mild, and lethal flus aren’t sustained by wild birds, as dead ducks don’t fly – and don’t transmit diseases to anyone who simply looks at them.