Hong Kong poultry market shut amid fears of bird flu
December 15, 1997
Hong Kong's main chicken market has been shut down for
Web posted at: 1:05 p.m. EST (1805 GMT)
HONG KONG (CNN) -- One of Hong Kong's largest wholesale
poultry markets was closed Monday following the death of two
people from a virus that previously was found only in birds
Stacks of cages lay empty and the usual squawking of
thousands of fowl was replaced by the sound of workers hosing
down the Cheung Sha Wan poultry market, which sells more than
one-third of the 80,000 chickens imported into Hong Kong
daily from China. Government officials said the market will
not reopen until Thursday, when a massive cleanup is
The virus's known fatalities, a 3-year-old and an adult,
were among seven people this year either confirmed or
suspected to have contracted the influenza H5N1 strain.
With chicken sales down sharply at local retail markets since
the flu virus surfaced, vendors at the market asked for the
cleanup to restore public confidence in poultry. Officials
said no infected chickens have been found at the market.
A new strain of flu can be devastating if it spreads rapidly.
An outbreak of so-called Hong Kong flu in 1968 caused more
than 40,000 deaths around the world. And a global flu
epidemic in 1918 and 1919 claimed the lives of more than 20
Another poultry wholesale site, Western Wholesale Food
Market, was also closed for cleanup.
Chicken meat sales plummeted 40 percent last week. The
Cheung Sha Wan market alone saw a 70 percent plunge in sales,
halving prices over the weekend to clear stock.
The government announced Monday that authorities in the
neighboring Chinese province of Guangdong have agreed to step
up the monitoring of chicken diseases in farms. Local
television reported that the government was considering
legislation to ban the import of chickens that do not meet
No word on how virus spreads
Scientists from the U.S. and China are working on a
vaccine for the new virus
Health officials have traced the virus to several small
poultry farms where thousands of chickens died last spring.
Most of Hong Kong's poultry comes from mainland China, which
is where experts suspect the virus may have originated.
Authorities have ordered an emergency shipment of the
anti-viral drug amantidine, which doctors believe may be
helpful if taken in the early stages of infection.
But so far, scientists, including a team from the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention in the United States, do not
know how the flu virus is contracted.
"We're speculating on something I don't know the answer to,"
said the CDC's Dr. Keiji Fukuda. "We just don't know that,
because we haven't established that there is that
transmission. But it is unlikely that you would be standing
around a chicken and get the influenza virus that way."
Many Hong Kong residents have decided to forego chicken
nonetheless. "With this chicken flu virus, people are more
and more sensitive," one vendor said.
Scare prompts pet abandonment
The government has also issued a warning to Hong Kong
schools, where raising live ducks and chickens as pets for
the pupils is a common practice. Several kindergartens have
already closed down their pet corners.
The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which
normally takes in 100 small animals a month, said it received
70 birds and other small animals in the last week.
"People have the idea that this virus is passing to birds, to
small animals, and then to children," said the society's
Doreen Davies. "At the moment, nobody knows for sure."
The flu strain is considered potentially deadly because at
this point, humans have no immunity to it.
Hong Kong Bureau Chief Mike Chinoy and Reuters contributed to this report.