WWF's response on dead Munia tested positive with H5
Posted 05 January 2007
This type of Munia is a small resident bird species, commonly found in 'tall' grassy areas throughout HK.
There is no evidence that this bird got the virus from a wild bird.
Munias in general, are the common birds sold in bird markets for religious releases. The dead bird found in Causeway Bay could have been part of a religious release.
People who participate in religious release think they are doing a meritious thing but really, the animal they are releasing are often wild caught, transported from its original country in crowded, unhygenic conditions where it can easily come into contact with many diseases, then sold in Hong Kong where the shop keepers makes a profit, to be released in unsuitable habitat where they may quickly die.
Although some 15 wild birds were found dead with the H5N1 virus in HK last winter (2005/06) and one bird with the H5 virus has been found this winter, this is not a sign that there will be an outbreak of the virus in HK now. The HK Government has only started collecting dead wild birds from the streets for analysis for the bird flu virus since last winter. We have no long-term information about the number of dead wild birds that normally die each winter from birdflu. Maybe 15 cases per winter is a normal number.
The H5N1 monitoring work that the Dept. of Microbiology (HKU) is doing at Mai Po is showing us that of the more than 18,000 samples taken so far, none have yet tested positive for the birdflu virus. However, when wild birds do catch the virus, they will die quickly, hence the number of dead wild birds found in HK with the virus.
This case in Causeway Bay does not affect the opening of Mai Po which is still a safe place to visit. In July 2006, the Government drafted new guidelines which stated that Mai Po and the Wetland Park would only be temporarily closed if a dead bird with the H5 virus is found within a 3 km radius of each of the two sites respectively. Closure will only be enforced for 21 days and the sites will be reopened after that period if no new cases are found within the 3 km radius area within that 21 days.
WWF cares about the health of our staff and visitors and so have put into place a number of measures to reduce any possible risk of visitors coming into potential contact with the birdflu virus. These include having a disinfectant foot bath at the entrance to the Reserve, locating alcohol sterilizing gel stations at strategic locations around the Reserve, and keeping clean the outdoor surfaces that visitors may touch (e.g. handrails).
In 2005, the UNEP Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) and the Agreement on the Conservation of African Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) established an International Scientific Task Force on Avian Influenza and Wild Birds, and produced a leaflet outlining the main issues. In this, it states that:
"The spread of HPAI H5N1 is of public concern….yet there remains widespread misunderstanding of the issue, especially about the different ways in which the virus might be spread. Misinformation has led to wild birds being automatically blamed.
Other modes of transmission, such as the trade in poultry and poultry products, the trade in caged birds and human movements may well play a far more significant role in the spread of HPAI H5N1".