Hong Kong raises bird flu alert level to "serious"

Hong Kong recently raised its bird flu alert level to “serious” and announced that it has plans to cull 17,000 chickens after several tested positive for the H5N1 strain of the disease.

Hong Kong health chief York Chow made the announcement after a dead chicken at a wholesale marketplace and two wild birds tested positive. Authorities placed a ban on all live imports of poultry while they trace the source of the infection, according to AFP.

RTHK, a public broadcaster, raised fears when it reported that 20 students from a girls’ school between the ages of six and seven had developed flu-like symptoms, including a fever, cough and sore throat. None of the girls has been hospitalized.

Millions of birds in Hong Kong were culled in 1997, when the world’s first major outbreak of bird flu in humans occurred. Six people died from a mutated form of the illness, which is usually confined to poultry.

“With a heavy heart, I announce that the dead chicken has been tested positive for the H5N1 strain of virus after a routine check by the agriculture, fisheries and conservation department today," Chow said, AFP reports. "We are now raising the bird flu response level from alert to serious."

A secondary school was closed last week after a dead black-headed gull was found with the virus. Several days later, a dead oriental magpie robin found in a different school also tested positive for H5N1.