Hong Kong bans poultry from bird flu-hit Canadian province

Hong Kong slapped an import ban on poultry from a western Canadian province that reported a bird flu case Tuesday, while Japan began asking travelers to disinfect their shoes to prevent the virus from entering the country and Australia launched a Web site to ease fears about the illness. Hong Kong followed the United States in temporarily blocking poultry imports from mainland British Columbia, where Canadian officials said they found a duck infected with bird flu.

But Canada insisted the bird caught a North American strain of the disease that was less virulent than the virus that has hit poultry in Asia and killed at least 67 people in the region since 2003. Still, officials have started to kill the 56,000 birds on the farm where the duck was found.

Meanwhile, Japan began asking travelers from bird flu-affected areas to have their shoes disinfected upon arrival at the country's four major airports, including Tokyo's international gateway at Narita. The Japanese were trying to prevent poultry manure contaminated with the bird flu virus from being tracked into their country.

Last December, Japan confirmed a single human case of bird flu but the patient recovered.

Australia's government sought to clear up misconceptions about bird flu by launching a Web site about the illness. The site provides news about the spread of the virus and gives tips on how to prepare for a possible human flu pandemic.

"There is a lot of misinformation around. There are a lot of misunderstandings around," Health Minister Tony Abbott told reporters.

Australia has had no recorded cases of bird flu, and the Web site's overseer, travel health expert Dr. John Gheradin, said the risk of catching the illness in the country is "clearly zero."

China has already reported 17 outbreaks in poultry since late October, despite a nationwide effort to vaccinate billions of poultry against the virulent H5N1 strain of the virus.

The latest Chinese outbreaks in the northern region of Inner Mongolia and the central province of Hubei killed a total of 3,676 chickens, ducks and geese, the official Xinhua News Agency said Monday. It said authorities destroyed a total of 7,002 birds to contain the outbreaks.

China has reported one human fatality from bird flu, plus the death of a girl who was a suspected case.

With China reporting outbreaks almost daily, the risk that the virus might cross the border into Hong Kong is growing, said Leung Pak-yin, chief of the Center for Health Protection.

Hong Kong has been on hyper-alert for signs of bird flu because the city's economy was ravaged by the 2003 outbreak of SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome. SARS also killed nearly 300 people here and caused widespread panic.

Leung on Monday pledged to business leaders that officials are ready for a flu pandemic.

"If anything happens in Hong Kong, we are sure that the one thing we want to ensure is we have the lowest mortality rate in Hong Kong and that we are the place that is going to recover first in the world, both from the health aspect and also from the economic aspect," Leung told members of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce, reports the AP. I.L.

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