Hong Kong: FEHD continues stringent monitoring and control against avian influenza (with photo)

With the advent of cold weather and sporadic human cases of avian influenza reported on the Mainland, staff of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) will remain vigilant and continue to strictly implement a series of risk management measures to safeguard public health, an FEHD spokesman said today (November 8).

The Centre for Food Safety of the FEHD has all along been keeping close liaison with the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, and both sides have implemented various effective control measures since the outbreak of human infection of avian influenza A(H7N9) in Eastern China in March this year, the spokesman said.

The measures adopted by Hong Kong include collecting and verifying animal health certificates and random sampling of blood samples and cloacal and oropharyngeal swabs from every consignment of live poultry for rapid tests at Man Kam To Animal Inspection Station. The poultry is released to the market for sale only when test results confirm that they are free from avian influenza viruses. From April 11 to the end of October, the test results of all the 9 300 swabs sampled were satisfactory.

As for public market stalls selling live poultry, the FEHD has also implemented a number of measures including stepping up inspections and demanding strict compliance with the requirement of no overnight stocking, that is, live poultry stall operators must slaughter all live poultry in the stalls before 8pm every evening and no live poultry can be kept on the premises between 8pm and 5am the following day. Other than the cleaning of public areas three times a day by the market cleaning contractors, live poultry stall operators are required to clean their stalls after the close of business every day, after which the market cleaning contractors will clean and disinfect the stalls. Reminders about paying attention to personal hygiene and wearing proper protective gear when touching live poultry are sent to workers of live poultry stalls from time to time.

Furthermore, the FEHD has commissioned the University of Hong Kong to collect faecal and drinking water samples from live poultry retail outlets for testing of avian influenza (ranging from H1 to H16). The retail outlets comprise market stalls in 11 public markets under the FEHD and five fresh provision shops located in premises of the Housing Authority, the Link and private buildings. Not less than 266 and 60 samples are taken each month from the market stalls and the fresh provision shops respectively. From January 2012 to September this year, some 7 000 samples collected all tested negative for the H7 virus.

On environmental hygiene, in addition to the routine street sweeping, FEHD staff have stepped up inspection, cleaning and disinfection with diluted bleach (one part bleach to 99 parts water) at public places where wild birds gather. Stringent enforcement actions against feeding of wild birds causing dirtiness to public places have also been taken.

The spokesman urged the public not to feed wild birds. People found dirtying public places while feeding feral birds (for instance, leaving the feed behind on the ground) are liable to a maximum fine of $25,000 and six months imprisonment. Law enforcement officers can also issue $1,500 fixed penalty notices to offenders under the Fixed Penalty (Public Cleanliness Offences) Ordinance.

The department will continue to liaise with the Mainland authorities closely and monitor the development of H7N9 avian influenza infection on the Mainland, with a view to adjusting the risk management measures whenever necessary to safeguard public health and hygiene.