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Officials confirm parrot not infected by Taiwanese birds

People attempting to import birds, animals or related species without permits will be subject to stiff penalties, COA reveals
2005-10-24 / Taiwan News, Staff Writer /

After a weekend of allegations that a dead parrot in Britain might have contracted avian influenza while in quarantine with birds from Taiwan, the Council of Agriculture yesterday declared that the birds from Taiwan were not infected.
Last Friday, British authorities indicated that a parrot from Suriname may have died in quarantine from the lethal H5N1 virus strain.

Government officials from the South American country claimed to have no knowledge of the bird being exported to Britain nor of it being infected before leaving the country.

The bird arrived in Britain in mid-September and was quarantined with 216 birds from Taiwan.

The COA said yesterday it had contacted British officials through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and verified that the birds from Taiwan were not infected before they were quarantined.

The Taiwanese birds, however, were destroyed under safety measures imposed by the British veterinary inspection system, after the Suriname parrot was suspected to have the most lethal form of bird flu.

In addition to Britain, Croatia, Sweden and Australia have also reported suspected cases of avian flu in birds within the last week.

Concerns about human-to-human transmission were allayed slightly in Thailand where health officials announced last Saturday that a father and son infected with bird flu did not transmit the virus to each other as had been feared.

The Department of Health and the COA assured the public that Taiwan was still an avian flu free area, but the agricultural agency set down stiff punishments for individuals who attempted to import animals, plants or related specimens into Taiwan without permission.

The COA said such actions would result in severe penalties ranging from a three-year jail sentence to a NT$150,000 fine plus community service.

The reminder came after it was reported that some professors in veterinary departments of local universities had collected specimens of the avian flu virus in China, and planned to bring them into the country for tests in an attempt to develop flu vaccines.

Officials at the Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine said it was unaware of such actions, but pointed out that this could spread the bird flu virus and pose a health risk to birds, other animals and humans as well.

The COA said it would make an effort to trace scholars who frequently traveled across the strait to prevent the possibility of importing infected birds into Taiwan.

The COA has set up a special direct phone line for people to report suspected violations at 0800-039131.

The DOH is encouraging people to get flu shots, not because it can prevent bird flu directly, but because it will provide better resistance against similar diseases.

The DOH expects public anxiety to ease if people get their regular vaccinations instead of unnecessarily taking Tamiflu, the one drug experts believe can be effective against the H5N1 virus that is in limited supply at the moment.

Tamiflu is not a vaccine and people are urged not to stockpile the drug on their own, particularly from unknown sources, said the DOH.

Officials from the Center of Disease Control said by practicing normal, common-sense hygiene before an illness breaks out, it would be easier to distinguish normal influenza from bird flu during diagnosis.

The Ministry of Education is requiring students and teachers to take their body temperatures every day prior to entering school beginning today.

The Ministry of Transportation and Communications has also banned passengers from carrying birds on public transit systems.