Hong Kong officials seize 6,000 chickens being smuggled from mainland China

Hong Kong officials have seized about 6,000 live chickens being smuggled into the territory from mainland China, the government said.

The seizure on Tuesday highlights the challenges Hong Kong faces as it tries to protect against the threat of bird flu spreading from mainland China, where several outbreaks have been reported in the past year.

The 6,000 birds were found in two containers at a cargo handling area, the government said in a statement. The truck driver surrendered the birds, which were then destroyed, it said.

Laboratory tests run on samples from the chickens showed no sign for bird flu. More tests were being done by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, the government said.

China has reported 21 human cases of bird flu, 14 of them fatal, since the H5N1 virus started ravaging poultry stocks in Asia three years ago, according to the World Health Organization. Hong Kong hasn't suffered any human H5N1 infections in the latest outbreak.

The South China Morning Post on Wednesday quoted a health official as saying Hong Kong should remain vigilant and beware of becoming complacent about the virus.

"Bird flu is intrinsically unpredictable. The risk is going to stay with us but when it will transform itself into pandemic flu no one can really tell," said Thomas Tsang Ho-fai, a consultant with the Center for Health Protection, the paper reported.

The H5N1 strain of bird flu has killed at least 146 people worldwide since late 2003, the WHO said, reports AP.

It is spread to humans from close contact with birds and bird droppings, but authorities fear it will mutate into a form that can be easily passed from person to person, potentially sparking a global pandemic.

Hong Kong's last major bird flu outbreak was in 1997, when the H5N1 strain jumped to humans and killed six people. That prompted the government to slaughter the entire poultry population of about 1.5 million birds.