16th March: RANGOON - Tests conducted in Bangkok have confirmed that chickens in Burma died from the deadly H5N1 avian flu strain, as the junta issued a public acknowledgement of the outbreak for the first time.
A representative of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, Dr Wantanee Kalpravidh, arrived in Rangoon this morning with confirmation that Burma had been infected by the virus. Wantanee will visit the main site of the outbreak just outside Mandalay tomorrow, an official of Burma’s Livestock Breeding and Veterinary Department said.
It was not immediately clear whether bird flu had also struck Sagaing Division. A statement in today’s state-run The New Light of Myanmar—the first public announcement by the government—said that “suspected avian influenza virus of H5N1 was found in a fowl” in Kin-U Township in Sagaing, while the LBVD said that this case had produced a positive result in Bangkok. The FAO, however, has repeatedly told The Irrawaddy this week that only chickens that died in Mandalay had produced positive results for bird flu in tests carried out in Burma.
The New Light of Myanmar report confirmed that the affected areas of Sagaing and Mandalay were under close surveillance as part of containment efforts that include the temporary closing of poultry markets and a poultry culling program. Other reports have said that poultry breeders affected by the culling program have not received any compensation.
One poultry feed manufacturer in Mandalay said the outbreak was beginning to hit the industry hard: “If the authorities order a ban [on chicken feed], the situation means we will surely have to shut down,” an employee of the company said today. “Sales of chicken feed are down more than 60 percent.”
A resident of Tachilek said that officials on both sides of the border crossing with Mae Sai in Thailand had banned trading in chickens across the frontier earlier this week. In Rangoon, restaurants have begun posting signs saying they do not sell poultry or eggs in a bid to avoid scaring off customers, while there are also reports that fried chicken stands in the capital have closed.
Burma’s first suspected cases of bird flu were discovered at the weekend when the Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries conducted tests confirming the disease before informing the FAO, the World Animal Health Organization and the World Health Organization. The FAO has since rushed supplies to Burma to help contain the disease. Meanwhile, there have been no additional reports of affected birds and, as yet, no reported human cases.