17 January 2021
Chicken farmers in several Asian nations are battling severe bird flu outbreaks.
The largest number of influenza cases is in Japan and South Korea. In those countries, 20 million chickens have been destroyed since November.
Outbreaks have been reported over a wide area in Japan during the past two months. Chiba near Tokyo has reported cases and there are reports of the disease more than 1,000 kilometers away on the island of Kyushu. Agriculture ministry officials say fresh cases are still happening.
"We can't say risk of the further spread of bird flu has diminished as the migration season for wild birds will continue until March, or even April in some cases," an official told Reuters.
The cases discovered in Japan and South Korea are similar to viruses that spread through Europe in 2019. Those viruses developed from widespread infections in 2014, said Filip Claes. He is an animal diseases expert with the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Bird flu is common in Asia at this time of year because of migratory bird movements. Now, new forms of the virus have evolved to become more deadly in wild birds. This puts countries on flight pathways at risk, experts say.
India and Indonesia face risks
Last week, the H5N8 virus reached India, the world's sixth biggest poultry producer. Bird flu has already been reported in 10 Indian states.
"This is one of the worst outbreaks ever in India," said Mohinder Oberoi, an animal health expert and former advisor to the FAO. He added that there is a lot of public fear about disease in crows, which can fly long distances. "They know they fly far and think they'll infect their poultry, or even people."
Chicken prices in India fell by almost a third last week as people became increasingly fearful of the disease and stayed away from the meat.
Bird flu cannot infect people who eat the meat and the H5N8 virus is not known to have infected humans. But people are still fearful, said Uddhav Ahire, chairman of Anand Agro Group, a poultry company based in the western Indian city of Nashik.
Indonesia is Asia's second largest poultry producer. The country is only a temporary transit point for wild birds. This has reduced the risk of infections, an official at the country's Agriculture Ministry said.
However, Indonesia still moved to ban live bird imports from countries with H5N8 cases and set up a surveillance system to look for early signs of the virus.
With no major bird flight pathways over Southeast Asia, countries like Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia have so far not had H5N8 outbreaks. Those nations could, however, face risks from the movement of people and goods.
The Asian outbreak comes as the world faces the COVID-19 pandemic. It hurt poultry sales early on. But the pandemic has also driven poultry demand up as more people facing virus restrictions turned to home cooking.
I'm Bryan Lynn
Reuters reported on this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the report for Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.
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Words in This Story
outbreak – n. a sudden start or increase in fighting or disease
influenza – n. a common sickness caused by a virus
diminish – v. to cause to become smaller or less important
evolve – v. to change or develop slowly into something that is more complex
poultry – n. the meat of birds (most often describing chicken)
transit – n. related to moving people or things from one place to another
surveillance – n. the act of carefully watching activities of people especially in order to control crime or the spread of disease