Japanese officials planned Monday to slaughter 82,000 more chickens after signs of bird flu were detected at a farm northeast of Tokyo, and authorities in Thailand said a woman was diagnosed with the disease after cleaning out a chicken coop.
Pacific rim disaster experts also met in Australia to discuss how to respond to a possible human flu pandemic, as Hong Kong said it would shut farms and kill all poultry in the city if the virus is found on more than one farm.
A Hong Kong newspaper, meanwhile, said Swiss drug company Roche Holding AG was in talks with Chinese officials about jointly producing its anti-viral medication Tamiflu, considered one of the few drugs likely to be effective in a global epidemic.
The latest Japanese outbreak occurred at a farm in Ibaraki, just northeast of Tokyo, officials said. The farm was inside a quarantined area where authorities had already found signs of the disease and culled around 1.5 million birds, prefectural livestock farming chief Taro Imai said.
Antibody tests showed the chickens had been exposed to a bird flu virus from the H5 family but survived, Ibaraki officials said in a statement. No active bird flu viruses were found, Imai said.
Bird flu hit Japan last year for the first time in decades. Officials say the strain that hit the country, H5N2, is less virulent than the H5N1 variety that has ravaged Southeast Asia since 2003 and killed at least 62 people there.
Most human cases have been traced to direct contact with sick birds, but health officials fear the H5N1 virus could mutate into a form that is easily passed between humans, possibly setting off a deadly flu pandemic.
In Thailand, a health official said Monday that a woman in a northern suburb of Bangkok had been diagnosed with the H5N1 strain — the country’s 20th infection since 2003. The 50-year-old woman is in stable condition in Bangkok’s Siriraj hospital, Deputy Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said.
The woman fell ill a day after helping clean a chicken coop, officials said.
Eddy Chan, Hong Kong’s deputy secretary for health, welfare and food, said the government would kill all poultry in the city if the H5N1 bird flu strain is found in chickens at two separate farms.
“We can’t wait for it to happen in a third farm before taking action,” Chan told lawmakers at a legislative meeting.
Chan added that all of Hong Kong’s 2,260 poultry farms would likely be closed for good under the plan.
The first recorded outbreak of H5N1 in humans was in Hong Kong in 1997, when the virus infected 18 people and killed six, according to the World Health Organization.
Meanwhile, the Hong Kong newspaper South China Morning Post quoted Roche’s chairman and chief executive officer, Franz Humer, as saying the company was talking with Chinese authorities about the possibility of jointly producing Tamiflu.
Roche’s office in Shanghai said it was open to discussing production with any potential partner with a capacity to make substantial amounts of the drug that would meet quality, safety and regulatory specifications.
Reports in state-run newspapers, however, said Roche had not yet received any formal applications from mainland Chinese pharmaceutical companies.
No human cases in China
China has reported three bird flu outbreaks in poultry over the past month. No human cases have been reported, but authorities warned Friday that one is inevitable if the country isn’t able to prevent outbreaks in chickens and ducks.
Also Monday, Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian warned that China might not be fully disclosing the extent of its bird flu outbreaks, saying the international community has to take special steps to monitor Beijing’s response to the disease.
“The Chinese government might have concerns about making its (problem) known, possibly because of worries over social stability and economic development,” he said. “We cannot rule out the approaching Olympic Games it will host in 2008 as a possible consideration.”
In Australia, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer urged calm over fears about the spread of bird flu as it hosted disaster coordinators from Pacific Rim nations to hammer out ways to stop emerging diseases from skipping across the region’s borders.
“There is no need to panic at this stage and we shouldn’t overstate the risk,” Downer told reporters before addressing the officials, who represent the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.
Speaking on the sidelines of the meeting, Vietnamese Vice Minister of Agriculture Bui Ba Bong said the country needs $50 million and help building up its stockpile of bird flu drugs as it struggles to keep a lid on the virus.
Vietnam has been hardest hit by bird flu, which has killed more than 40 people in the country and prompted authorities to destroy tens of millions of poultry.
Vietnamese officials said Monday they had killed 400 poultry in backyard farms after about 800 birds from 20 backyard farms died en masse. The birds tested negative for the H5N1 strain.