Vietnam's two biggest cities to purge all live poultry to halt bird flu

Vietnam's two biggest cities are expected to purge all live poultry by next week to try to halt the spread of bird flu prior to the winter months, when the virus has historically been most destructive, officials said Tuesday.

The government in southern Ho Chi Minh City is buying poultry from commercial farms, slaughtering it and freezing the meat to be sold at grocery stores, said Huynh Hu Loi, director of the city's animal health department. He said about 15,000 birds remain, and officials are expected to slaughter those by Saturday.

Backyard farmers in urban and rural districts also have been ordered to either sell or slaughter all poultry by Monday to receive 15,000 dong (US$1) apiece, or about half the current market value from the government. Any birds found after that, will be killed without compensation, Loi said.

Four checkpoints have been added at the city's main entrances, along with units randomly inspecting vehicles to help prevent smuggled birds from entering or leaving the city, he said.

"We hope that clearing out alive poultry in the city will help minimize the chances of people getting sick from bird flu," Loi said. "A pandemic can happen anytime. We are doing all we can."

In the capital, Hanoi, animal officials are combing the city's nine urban districts and slaughtering all poultry found, said Nguyen Van Phuc, deputy director of the city's animal health department. The inspections are expected to be completed by the end of the week, and the government is paying the same compensation.

No commercial farms exist inside the city limits, but officials are targeting all backyard farms.

In the rural outskirts, farmers are not required to slaughter their flocks, but their farms will be shut down if they do not meet animal health hygiene standards, Phuc said. Any unvaccinated poultry or birds of unclear origin will also be killed, he added. Vietnam is struggling to keep the H5N1 bird flu virus from spreading prior to the winter months when the disease has previously killed the most poultry and people. The virus has killed at least 64 people in Southeast Asia since 2003, the bulk of those in Vietnam. Millions of birds have died or been slaughtered as the virus spreads from Asia to Europe.

International health experts have warned that the bird flu virus, which is now hard for people to catch, could mutate into a form easily spread among humans. They fear it could ignite a global pandemic that kills millions worldwide. So far, most human cases have been traced to contact with infected birds, reports the AP. I.L.

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