TAIPEI, Taiwan - Health officials ordered the killing of thousands of ducks and chickens in central and southern Taiwan yesterday to control the latest outbreak of a bird flu that has swept across Asia, devastating poultry stocks and killing at least 10 people.
The officials ordered the immediate slaughter of about 27,000 ducks and chickens after the virus was detected among birds at four farms between 20 and 100 miles from the central city of Taichung. A six-month quarantine also was placed on poultry farms within a 2-mile radius of the affected birds.
Yesterday's announcement marked the latest known outbreak of the virus that was first reported among commercially sold birds last month in South Korea. The disease, which has hit countries in Southeast Asia especially hard, has been detected in 10 nations from Pakistan to Japan. The development so unnerved some governments worried about huge poultry industry losses that they initially tried to conceal the outbreaks - efforts that public health experts believe exacerbated the problem.
Although the virus mainly attacks wild birds and poultry, it has jumped in cases to humans who had contact with infected animals. At least eight people reportedly have died in Vietnam and two in Thailand.
The outbreak in Taiwan, however, was said to be a less virulent strain of the virus that has not shown an ability to be transmitted to humans.
So far, there have been no reports of the more powerful H5N1 strain jumping from one person to another. However, officials from the World Health Organization have expressed concern that if the strain were able to develop that ability, the result could be extremely serious because there is no suitable vaccine to protect humans.
Elsewhere yesterday, other governments in the region took new steps to stop the spread of the disease, and a dispute erupted about where the current outbreak began. China, which reported its first case of the bird flu this week, began to destroy 130,000 chickens and ducks in the affected areas, while Indonesian authorities bowed to pressure from the WHO and ordered the culling of infected birds, estimated to number in the millions.
The Indonesian government had initially hoped to contain the outbreak by vaccinating healthy poultry, a move it believed stood a better chance of rescuing the livelihoods of the affected farmers.
In Hong Kong, which has an elaborate early-warning system in place to detect any return of the pneumonia-like SARS virus that last year caused economic havoc in the region, a 75-year-old woman was isolated and placed under observation after returning from Vietnam with flu-like symptoms. Authorities in the territory later said the woman had tested negative for the avian flu but results were not in on whether she might have contracted severe acute respiratory syndrome, the Associated Press reported.
WHO advisories last year warning against travel to the region because of the SARS outbreak led to the loss of billions of dollars among Asian nations.
As the struggle to contain the bird flu continued, Chinese government spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue dismissed as "groundless" a report in the current issue of the British magazine New Scientist suggesting that the bird flu might have been transmitted across a wide area of Asia by birds from southern China that had been inoculated with a vaccine not properly matched to the H5N1 virus.
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.