Bird flu concerns have emerged in Hong Kong and Thailand during the past week. Thailand officials are dealing with the concerns of using aggressive bird slaughtering tactics. However, the problem is not that simple in Hong Kong.
For the first time in six months, the deaths of more than a hundred ducks were attributed to the H5N1 virus in Thailand. The slaughter of over 2,100 ducks within a 3 mile radius of the afflicted area was ordered as a result. Thailand’s Public Health Ministry is taking measures to prevent the spread of the bird flu to its people by monitoring cases of flu, coughs and pneumonia. Although no cases have been reported in recent months, historically Thailand has suffered 17 deaths due to the bird flu caused by the H5N1 virus.
The birds stricken with H5N1 that appeared in Hong Kong were more of a mystery. Six scaly breasted munia were found dead in an urban district of Hong Kong, far from their native rural dwelling. Experts speculate that the birds may have been used by Buddhists as part of a ritual performed to improve karma. Part of the ritual involved releasing life, and the birds are captured and then released for this purpose.
Like Thailand, Hong Kong has experienced death and bird slaughter in the past due to bird flu. Six people died from the illness in 1997 in Hong Kong, which prompted the slaughter of 1.5 million birds in the area.
Due to bird flu concerns, the Hong Kong government urges its citizens to refrain from freeing birds in Buddhist rituals. However, there is no formal ban. Some Buddhists have turned to releasing fish into the sea rather than releasing the potentially hazardous birds during their rituals.
Around the world, an increasing number of H5N1 bird flu cases have been reported in Azerbaijan, Cambodia, China, Djibouti, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Thailand, Turkey, and Vietnam since 2003. The mortality rate of H5N1 is 50%. The United States has been working closely with other countries and the World Health Organization to strengthen systems that would detect outbreaks of influenza that might cause a pandemic in order to prepare for the potential of a H5N1 bird flu pandemic.
Most cases of H5N1 bird flu are believed to be caused by exposure to infected poultry. Although there has been no sustained human-to-human transmission of the disease, public health officials remain concerned about the possibility that H5N1 could develop this capability. The concern with the possibility that H5N1 might evolve into a virus capable of human-to-human transmission is that this would hasten the spread of the disease and increase its impact on the world’s population.