Bird ‘flu found in Phang Nga

PHANG NGA: One person has been hospitalized with suspected avian ‘flu in Phang Nga and tens of thousands of chickens and ducks are set to be slaughtered in the coming few days after an outbreak was confirmed on a farm in Takuapa District yesterday afternoon. Speaking to the Gazette today, Pairat Dejsiri, Assistant Chief of Phang Nga Provincial Livestock Office (PNPLO), confirmed that chickens on a farm in Takuapa had been found to have died from the H5N1 virus. K. Pairat said that the suspected human victim of the potentially deadly disease was under careful observation and that it had yet to be confirmed whether this was a case of avian ‘flu. He noted, however, “This person had nothing to do with live chickens.” He explained that, a few days ago, a chicken farmer had found about 20 of his ducks and 15 chickens had died. He reported the deaths to the PNPLO and the corpses were taken to the Southern Veterinary Research and Development Center (SVRDC), which confirmed the presence of the virus yesterday at 4:30 pm. “We immediately reported this to the governor of the province and we declared Takuapa District a bird ‘flu danger zone. All chickens within a radius of five kilometers of the farm were ordered to be slaughtered. “We have already killed 13,052 chickens and ducks from three farms in Tambon Bang Nai Sri and we expect to have to kill between 70,000 and 90,000 more in the district within the week. We have asked for help from the Royal Thai Navy at the Tab Lamu base,” K. Pairat added. He said that Phang Nga Governor Samacha Potaworn had explained to local chicken farmers the necessity for the slaughter and had reassured them that, because their farms were in a declared danger zone, they would receive government compensation for the slaughtered birds. “We have set up checkpoints to prevent fowl from being moved in or out of the danger zone,” he added. Phuket Governor Udomsak Usawarangkura ordered a ban on all imports of chickens, ducks and eggs into Phuket three days ago, before the Phang Nga outbreak was discovered, and it is hoped that, Phuket being an island, the disease can be kept at bay. Sunart Wongchawalit, the Chief of the Phuket Provincial Livestock Office (PPLO), told the Gazette today that the PPLO continues a program of frequent random checks on the island’s poultry farms. “We are doing random checks on every place that has chickens – even the zoo and places where people keep fighting cocks. Tonight we will check Phuket FantaSea. So far, I can say with confidence that there is absolutely no sign of bird ‘flu in Phuket. “Our controls are the strictest in Thailand. Even those drivers who have paperwork to show that the chickens they are transporting are free of disease are being turned away [at Tah Chat Chai checkpoint],” he said. “We have enough eggs and chicken meat to last maybe one or two months, assuming that the island’s average consumption of 15,000 birds a day is maintained. But in fact, demand is falling, so stocks may last longer. “I believe we have to be very strict in our controls – that’s the only way we can be completely safe. The officers working to control the situation must be strict and honest.” He admitted, however, “I am worried that some people may try to smuggle poultry by boat. From Phang Nga it’s easy to enter Phuket by sea.” Whether smuggling of poultry would be a profitable venture is doubtful. An ad hoc survey of restaurants by the Gazette revealed that many have taken chicken and duck off the menu after kitchen staff refused to handle poultry. In those restaurants that are still offering poultry, few diners are tempted. Asked about the possible impact of the Phang Nga outbreak on tourism in Phuket, Napasorn Kakai, the Deputy Director of the local TAT Office, told the Gazette, “This is not something we can comment on – it’s not a tourism-related matter. It’s a matter for the Provincial Health Office.”

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