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AGRICULTURE REPORT – February 19, 2002: Bird Flu in Hong Kong - 2002-02-15

This is the VOA Special English AGRICULTURE REPORT.

Health workers in Hong Kong are attempting to halt the spread of a virus that attacks chickens. They are moving quickly before it can develop into a virus like one that killed six people in Nineteen-Ninety-Seven.

Health workers have already destroyed more than one-hundred-fifty-thousand chickens in Hong Kong. They also have increased inspections of markets and farms where chickens are raised.

This is the third time in five years that the bird flu virus has affected Hong Kong. Officials are now considering what additional steps they need to take. Some critics blame the problem on poor conditions at chicken farms. They say these include overcrowding, unclean conditions and lack of fresh air.

Influenza is usually called the flu. It causes higher than normal body temperatures. People with the flu also may suffer muscle pain, breathing problems and weakness.Flu is not usually serious. Most people will feel fine after a week of two. But the flu can have serious effects. And, it can kill. It is a special threat to very young or very old people, and those with a weak defense system against disease.

Bird flu usually does not affect people. However, sometimes the flu virus changes. Five years ago, six people in Hong Kong died when they became infected with a flu virus found in chickens. Health officials then ordered the killing of all chickens, ducks and geese in Hong Kong.

Last May, a similar virus infected thousands of Hong Kong’s chickens. Officials ordered the killing of more than one-million-three-hundred-thousand birds. That virus was not a threat to humans.

Hong Kong has almost seven-million people. Chicken is a popular food. People there eat about one-hundred-thousand chickens every day. Traditionally, many people buy their chickens live from street markets and bring them home freshly killed. Hong Kong markets are still selling chickens. But sales have dropped sharply.

Ken Shortridge is a biologist at the University of Hong Kong. He is one of the scientists studying the bird flu virus. Mister Shortridge says the virus is not an immediate threat to people. However, the virus is changing quickly. He says it could change into a virus that kills people.

This VOA Special English AGRICULTURE REPORT was written by George Grow.