Strengthened measures combat avian influenza

  • Date: 2016-12-20

I. Background

Located along a major north-south route for migratory birds, Taiwan is highly susceptible to the spread of avian influenza. According to the World Organization for Animal Health, the second half of 2016 saw increased incidents of bird flu worldwide, notably the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) virus subtype H5N8 in Central Asia, Europe and the Middle East, as well as the H5N6 subtype in nearby Korea and Japan. In Taiwan, the H5N8 subtype was detected at a slaughterhouse in the Nantou County in late November, prompting the destruction of 2,448 chickens.

In response to these developments, the Council of Agriculture has activated an avian flu alert mechanism and is working with local governments to put comprehensive disease control measures in place. Several preventive measures have also been taken to reduce the risk of further infection and transmission.


II. Cooperate with local governments, strengthen alert mechanism

Extremely infectious and pathogenic, the HPAI virus mutates quickly and has a particularly wide host range. Effective control of the virus will therefore require strategic planning and execution by the central government as well as strict enforcement of control measures by local authorities:

A. Intensify monitoring of farms at high risk of bird flu infection. For 2016, local officials are monitoring and collecting random samples from some 1,500 poultry farms. In the winter, as more migratory birds take shelter in Taiwan, authorities have also stepped up sampling of migratory and wild bird droppings, and increased the monthly number of samples to be collected from 150 to 400 for October through April. For ducks, the number of samples collected has been doubled while as many as 250 duck farms are being monitored.

B. Conduct sanitary inspections of slaughterhouses and monitor production levels at rendering plants (facilities where raw materials such as animal carcasses, discarded carcasses and their organ meats, skin, blood, bones and feet are processed into fertilizer, feed, leather, plastic or industrial grease). Any irregularities are traced to their origins so that suspected cases may be disposed of immediately.

C. Increase border quarantine controls and crack down on smuggling operations to keep foreign animal diseases from entering and spreading in Taiwan.

D. Monitor avian flu developments worldwide and in countries upstream from Taiwan on the winter migratory bird route. When necessary, issue press releases, letters or text messages reminding farmers to be on alert and take proper measures.

E. Strengthen knowledge and awareness of bird flu prevention among domestic poultry workers and veterinarians.

F. Provide livestock workers and animal disease control workers with free flu vaccinations to reduce the risks of virus recombination and cross-species infection.

G. Remind the public to maintain good personal hygiene: avoid touching birds or picking up bird carcasses; thoroughly cook chicken, duck, goose and eggs before consuming; and wash hands after handling raw poultry or eggs.


III. Enhance prevention response mechanism

A. Cities, counties and special municipalities are helping farmers improve their poultry facilities in accordance with publicly announced control measures for the H5 and H7 subtype viruses. Local governments have formed inspection teams in conjunction with the central government to intensify monitoring efforts.

B. Increase surveillance of animal health at poultry farms:

  1. Veterinarians have been contracted to assess the health of domestic poultry and issue poultry health certifications.
  2. Local animal disease control workers are conducting on-site health inspections of poultry farms based on disease monitoring information and sampling test results.
  3. Poultry transported to slaughterhouses are subject to sanitary inspection by a specialized veterinarian before and after the slaughter process.

C. Lower virus transmission risks by encouraging farmers to fumigate eggs and follow cleaning and disinfection procedures for transport vehicles and cages.

D. Take stock of all personnel and resources for animal culling and carcass disposal in each city, county and special municipality; organize teams, lay out plans, and conduct dry runs for response plans in the event of an outbreak.

E. Enhance interministerial coordination, maintain clear lines of communication.

F. For farms with reported bird flu infections, monitor the health of all farm workers and those responsible for culling and cleaning. Persons showing symptoms of acute respiratory tract infection should be reported to local health authorities to arrange medical attention.


IV. Conclusion

Each winter brings increased risks of avian influenza, a disease that could have profound impacts on industrial safety, agricultural livelihoods and the health of citizens. Prevention of this disease is akin to waging war, requiring central and local governments to work with citizens and mobilize all resources to intensify border inspections, control the source of infections, improve bird protection facilities on poultry farms, and strengthen biosafety and disease controls. Over the long term, the government will help farmers improve livestock practices, build better indoor farming environments, and keep farm-bred poultry from coming into contact with avian influenza—all of which will help gradually eradicate the virus from Taiwan’s poultry population.