Birds inc magpie robin in Hong Kong w H5N1

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    Martin W
      The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) said today (June 1) that the Starling found earlier in Mong Kok was confirmed to be H5N1 positive after a series of laboratory tests.

      The Starling was collected at 101-109 Boundary Street on May 26 by AFCD staff following a public referral.

      A department spokesman reminded the public to observe good personal hygiene.

      “They should avoid personal contact with wild birds and live poultry and clean their hands thoroughly after coming into contact with them,” he said.

      Starling tests positive for H5N1 virus
      Another case from real near the bird markets.
      A species that’s mainly a winter visitor to Hong Kong, and then found in rural areas (especially Mai Po), and is so hard to find now it’s summer that even records of one bird are “news” in local birding world.

      Daft to suggest avoiding contact with wild birds!

      Martin W

        Another H5N1 casualty in Hong Kong – a Common or Black-billed Magpie found at Sha Tin (a new town/city to the north of Kowloon). Fits previous pattern – likely a wild bird, but scavenger, as others in crow family.

        The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said today (June 8) that the Common Magpie found earlier in Sha Tin was confirmed to be H5N1 positive after a series of laboratory tests.

        The carcass of the bird was collected at 13 Jat Min Chuen Street, Sha Tin on May 31 by department staff following a public referral.

        Common Magpie tests positive for H5N1 virus

        Martin W

          After several h5n1 records indicating bird markets in Kowloon are source of H5N1 (in turn from markets in China?), now a positive result from bird in the market:

          The H5N1 virus has been detected in a daurian starling faecal swab sample taken from a pet shop in Yuen Po Street Bird Garden in Mong Kok.

          The Agriculture, Fisheries & Conservation Department tonight temporarily closed the shop and took its birds for observation and further testing. It also ordered all nearby bird shops to undergo thorough cleansing.

          The sample was collected on June 4 under the department’s routine avian influenza surveillance programme.

          The Leisure & Cultural Services Department will enhance cleansing of the Bird Garden, and the Food & Environmental Hygiene Department will boost street cleaning near it.

          The Centre for Health Protection has put all stall operators and workers under medical surveillance. It has launched a hotline (2125 1122) to provide health advice to people who may have recently visited bird pet shops.

          Bird sample H5N1-positive

          Martin W

            Another winter arrives, another report of dead wild bird with H5N1. Little egret mostly resident here; Tuen Mun an urban area, near some places w farms (where can wonder if receive smuggled poultry, toss any that die into nearby creeks, where might be scavenged).

            A little egret found in a Hong Kong park has tested positive for the H5N1 bird flu virus, the government said on Saturday. The bird was collected at the Tuen Mun Park in the New Territories on Nov. 18, the city’s agriculture, fisheries and conservation department said in a brief statement.

            Hong Kong finds egret with bird flu in city park

            Martin W

              After perhaps six dead herons or egrets and a dead common buzzard found in Hong Kong and shown to have H5N1 this winter, I posted this to HK Birdw Soc forum:

              Indeed intriguing re just how these herons/egrets have been infected.

              If not scavenging bird corpses (with Grey Heron before, I’ve wondered re scavenging dead chickens tossed into creeks),
              then perhaps from water – but why so few individuals, why not ducks (which we know can readily catch n spread wild bird flus – Anatidae evidently being chief reservoirs of these wild flus)?
              From fish, with sufficient virus in stomachs?? (maybe after eating poultry manure, offal from infected poultry?)


              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.


              Took a while, but received this from Food n Health Bureau:

              Thank you for your email.

              Overseas  studies  have  shown  that  migratory  water  birds are a natural
              reservoir  of the highly pathogenic H5 avian influenza (HPAI) virus.  These
              birds  may  spread the virus to other birds when congregating.  Every year,
              over  100  000 migratory birds visit Hong Kong and Mai Po Nature Reserve is
              the  major  congregation place for these birds, especially water birds.  It
              is for this reason that the Reserve attracts many visitors.

              The  potential transmission of HPAI viruses from other regions to Hong Kong
              via  migratory  wild  birds has long been of concern to the public.  In the
              area  of  Mai  Po Nature Reserve, faecal droppings or cloacal swabs of live
              wild  birds  were  regularly  collected  and  tested  by  the  Agriculture,
              Fisheries  and  Conservation  Department  (AFCD) and the University of Hong
              Kong.  In 2007, over 8,700 dead birds had been tested for HPAI.  There were
              21  dead  wild  birds,  including 3 water birds, tested positive for highly
              pathogenic H5N1 viruses.

              We  hope  you  would understand that in view of the risks posed by the HPAI
              virus,  the  Government  has  to  take  appropriate measures to prevent the
              possible spread of the disease in Hong Kong and to protect public health.

              Oh dear, seems our paper pushers are firm Tooth Fairy Bird believers!
              I’ve replied:

              Thank you for your latest email.
              This only reinforces my belief that science is not behind the closures of Mai Po in supposed attempts to reduce threats from bird flu. Instead, we have something more akin to arm waving (as one of my physical chemistry lecturers put it), with leaping to conclusions; almost a superstitious belief – as if the Tooth Fairy Bird I’ve written of is alive and well, and living in the brains of the Food and Healthy Bureau.
              Sadly, these anonymous "experts" in the Dept of Health would seem not too strong on science, and lacking understanding of the natural world, including wild birds, and evolution. It would do them good to get out more, and do a bit of thinking.

              "Overseas  studies  have  shown  that  migratory  water  birds are a natural reservoir  of the highly pathogenic H5 avian influenza (HPAI) virus. "

              – you need hardly say more really.
              Overseas studies – yet we talk of Mai Po, where there have been significant studies of avian flu in wild birds.
              Also, "natural reservoir of H5" – when it is h5n1 of forms ("genotype Z" etc) from poultry farms that are important.

              Suppose I were to suggest that movements of people should be controlled, as many are carriers of coronaviruses?
              – ridiculous, right? – as the fact SARS is a coronavirus does not mean all coronaviruses are bad.
              A great many people have the common cold, much as many wild birds have avian flus; including H5 (albeit H5 in wild birds can be low path, too, I believe)

              Studies including, importantly, at Mai Po show that wild birds are not good reservoirs of H5N1 of the forms that are of concern – which might be better termed poultry flus, as they originated from poultry farms.

              As mentioned ad infinitum, by myself, WWF, members of the HK BIrdwatching Society and so forth – assessments of the dead "wild birds" with H5N1 in recent years have shown that several were not of wild origin; also the dead birds tended to be found in and around urban areas; there seems a pretty good correlation with bird and even poultry markets.

              Despite extensive testing of healthy wild birds at Mai Po, all wild birds – and "wild" birds – found to have H5N1 in Hong Kong have been dead, or sick and dying.
              No apparently healthy wild bird has been found to have H5N1; no H5N1 case as yet at Mai Po.

              I could re-iterate re evolution and infectious diseases.
              However, the above – as my previous emails – should suffice to show that closing Mai Po was little more than a knee-jerk reaction; not a benefit to people’s health.
              [You want to stop remote health risks, go ahead and try: maybe keep people in lest meteorites smack into them when outdoors, or whatever.
              Perhaps more absurd than closures: banning birdwatching tours in Kowloon Park, when the park itself was not closed. Nobody can come up with a shred of science behind this. Nobody.]
              I’m sure you agree.

              I hope the "experts" will take some measures to acquaint themselves with the natural world, including birds – I’m sure the Mai Po staff would be happy to take them around come late autumn, when waterbirds abound.

              Fingers crossed!


              Letter I sent Hong Kong’s Sunday Morning Post, appeared today (edited a little there):

              I refer to the letter from O.H. Mark (4 January), saying we need a strategy to cull pigeons.

              Sadly, it appears O.H. Mark is among those who have been hoodwinked by people claiming we are threatened by flu carried by wild birds including pigeons. Such claims have more to do with finding scapegoats for the shortcomings of the poultry industry, coupled with ignorance of evolution, than of reality.

              While birds – especially waterfowl – indeed carry a variety of bird flus, they are not major vectors of the nasty variants of H5N1 that have evolved in the poultry industry. This is because the nasty variants are lethal to most birds; and as dead ducks – and dead pigeons – don’t fly, the variants quickly die out in the wild.

              Further, the H5N1 variants have evolved in poultry, not in humans. Hence they are highly dangerous to birds including chickens; but are not a substantial, plague-like health risk to humans. A dangerous human flu must evolve in humans, and evidence shows this requires special circumstances – soldiers massed in World War One trench warfare, or people gathered in rural areas during grandiose socialist experiments.

              I hope, then, that O.H. Mark will not run for cover on next seeing pigeons, and will consider that though his family lives within the city, his daughter need not grow up in a sadly sterile environment.


              And another letter to SCM Post, published today. Followed Hong Kong government closing Mai Po reserve as a dead swallow with H5N1 was found nearby; WWF Hong Kong CEO wrote to the paper complaining, government department responded, and I then sent this:

              Mai Po and the Dead Ducks Don't Fly Principle

              I refer to the long and yet insubstantial letter from Dr Mary Chow, for director of agriculture, fisheries and conservation ("Public health is main concern during closure of bird reserves"), which sought to justify closures of Mai Po as a result of isolated cases of dead birds being found, and testing positive for H5N1 bird flu.

              For five years, I have been active in striving to highlight the fact that wild birds do not sustain and spread virulent forms of H5N1. Overwhelmingly, birds that catch H5N1 sicken, and die: which might be summarised as "Dead Ducks Don't Fly". Yet there have been considerable efforts to show otherwise, and to blame wild birds for spreading flu; and remarkably little effort to investigate the role of the poultry industry, including extensive poultry smuggling.

              As Dr Chow is aware, yet many officials and industry people are loathe to admit, highly pathogenic – highly lethal – forms of bird flu are products of the poultry industry. The virulent strains of H5N1 of concern evolved in the poultry industry – particularly in factory farming conditions that are ideally suited to evolving deadly diseases; the poultry industry has sustained H5N1, despite eradication efforts.

              Hence, this "bird flu" is something of a misnomer: H5N1 would be better termed "poultry flu". There is justification for measures to limit spread within the poultry industry, particularly in crowded farms and markets rather than backyards. However, measures such as the recent closure of Mai Po because of a single dead swallow being found outside the reserve are over-reacting, and not based on science.

              Extensive testing at Mai Po and – I believe – worldwide has yet to find even one apparently healthy wild bird with virulent H5N1: the Dead Ducks Don't Fly principle holds. So when all birds at Mai Po look healthy, they surely are healthy. Dr Chow notes the reserve closure would minimise human contact with wild birds and their faecal droppings. Yet I have been visiting Mai Po for some 23 years, and not once come into contact with a wild bird there; nor am I prone to touching their droppings – or eating them, as flu is not contracted through skin.

              The closure decision would appear political – perhaps showing the poultry industry it is not being singled out. It not only stopped visits to the reserve in the short-term, and hit WWF-Hong Kong financially, but also contributed to undue notions that the natural world is somehow scary: we already have too many Hongkongers who are afraid of creatures like butterflies, and even nervous regarding trees. Given the "Conservation" in its name, the AFCD should be doing all it can to reverse such notions, and to stand up for wild birds and science.

              It is good the government is conducting a review of the overall risk; I hope science and commonsense will prevail. I hope, too, the government will indeed work closely with WWF-HK on this front.

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