Japan confirms first bird flu case in livestock this winter

Kyodo, JIJI

A highly pathogenic strain of avian influenza has killed chickens at a poultry farm in Kagawa Prefecture according to the prefectural government, making it the first bird flu outbreak affecting livestock in the nation this winter season.

On Thursday night the Kagawa Prefectural Government announced that a positive result in genetic tests confirmed that the disease was caused by a pathogenic strain of influenza virus.

The Kagawa Prefectural Government was set to start culling around 91,000 chickens on the farm in the city of Sanuki later Thursday night, with help from the Self-Defense Forces.

The farm notified the prefectural government of a suspected bird flu case Wednesday morning, saying 55 chickens in one of its 15 poultry houses had died.

Now that the results of the genetic tests are known to be positive, all movement of poultry and eggs will be restricted within a radius of 3 kilometers from the infected site and farms within a 10-km radius of the site will be banned from transporting birds and eggs out of the area.

The farm has stopped shipping chickens elsewhere and the prefectural government has cleaned the area with disinfectants.

After being informed of the suspected avian flu outbreak, the prefectural government on Wednesday set up a task force headed by Kagawa Gov. Keizo Hamada to deal with the situation. The agriculture ministry has established its own team.

Agriculture minister Ken Saito called for cooperation between the central and local governments, and for all possible measures to be taken to prevent further spread of the bird flu virus.

Residents in the city and local chicken farmers alike have expressed their hope that the situation will not turn into a “serious” incident. “I never imagined that a case of influenza would occur around here,” said a noticeably anxious local resident. In response to the incident, prefectural authorities have set up seven locations where livestock related vehicles can be cleaned to lessen the chances of spreading the virus.

According to the prefecture, chicken farming is the largest livestock industry in the area. The city alone has around 5 million egg-laying chickens and 2 million chickens for consumption, which are raised on a number of local farms. It still remains a possibility that the virus was passed along by migratory birds rather than livestock, as the area contains a variety of public parks and other lakes that often host wild birds.

The business implications could be severe if the virus spreads, even for farmers outside of the city of Sanuki. “Even if you are located far from the incident you don’t know where a potential infection could come from,” said an 80-year-old chicken farmer, “I want to take extraordinary countermeasures.”

In Japan this winter, seven cases of highly pathogenic flu infection have been confirmed among wild birds, all in the western prefecture of Shimane.

There have been no reports of human bird flu infection in the country through the consumption of poultry or eggs.