Taiwan’s bird flu battle shows signs of success

By Jens Kastner

- Last updated on GMT

A total of 943 Taiwanese poultry farms tested positive for H5 bird flu strains
A total of 943 Taiwanese poultry farms tested positive for H5 bird flu strains

Related tags Bird Livestock Poultry

Taiwan veterinary authorities, which have battled H5N8 and H5N2 bird flu outbreaks, are now successfully testing for any remnant of the disease by posting sentinel chickens on disinfected farms for health monitoring.

Officials have told farms suffering outbreaks they must have sentinel chickens tested negative before they restock and have insisted on monitoring surrounding poultry farms within a 1km radius of the infected farm or abattoir. They have also banned treatment and vaccination in favour of culls.

The supply of the sentinel chickens had proved problematic in the early summer months, a prominent veterinarian told GlobalMeatNews​, with poultry producers unwilling to supply enough birds.​ But now supplies of these birds are sufficient, and the authorities’ strict measures are proving successful.

“Most farmers passed the sentinel chicken test, meaning they didn’t get infection in 21 days of testing, and almost all of them have restocked,”​ said Wang Ching-ho, professor at National Taiwan University’s School of Veterinary Medicine.

“This approach is important because while H5N8 and subtype H5 are only sporadically occurring in Taiwan in the current summer months, they tend to become more common during the winter,”​ he explained.

Poultry farms inspected

According to the Taiwan Council of Agriculture’s Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine, by 28 July, 973 Taiwanese poultry farms were inspected. That had led to 943 farms testing positive for H5 strains, with one farm to be found positive for H6N1, a type that requires no mandatory reporting to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).

Although 4.9 million birds have been destroyed in stamping-out culls designed to wipe out this year’s set of outbreaks, the authorities have largely managed to keep poultry prices stable through increasing imports, with the exception of goose, whose price has risen 40% in the period.

Virus still exists

However, there are observers warning that outbreaks could become common again in winter, causing prices to soar. “We had cases of dead sentinel chickens in Tainan last month, suggesting that the virus still exists in the environment,”​ said Du Yu, CEO of the Chen-Li Task Force for Agricultural Reform.

And that could be a problem if hard-pressed farms do not follow government health controls closely: “Because the affected farms’ investments are so substantial that many of them will find it prohibitive to comply with the government’s re-stocking requirements, there is a real risk of serious outbreaks in the winter,”​ he suggested.

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