City Officials Intercept More Poultry Trucks In Riyadh

RIYADH, 27 November 2007 — New cases of bird flu virus have been found at a poultry farm in Al-Kharj, 150 km south of Riyadh, the Agriculture Ministry announced yesterday.

While the Ministry of Agriculture was announcing the news of the detection of this deadly virus, another attempt to smuggle two truckloads of live birds into the capital city was foiled by the municipal officials yesterday.

“The government’s monitoring agencies, including the Riyadh Municipality, is seriously concerned about the new cases of avian flu,” said Soliman Hamad Al-Buthi, a spokesman of the municipality, via telephone from a southern suburb of the capital city, where he and his team have been deployed to monitor the situation.

Al-Buthi said that both trucks were impounded and the birds, whose number exceeded 7,000, were culled immediately after officials intercepted the trucks on a highway.

Referring to the new cases of bird flu, the statement released by the Ministry of Agriculture here said, “All birds in the Al-Kharj farm were culled after the H5N1 strain was found there by the monitoring teams.” The ministry said bird flu virus detected at Hijrat Al-Barat in Al-Kharj was the highly dangerous H5N1 strain.

“The presence of H5N1 in poultry poses greater risk for human health,” said an official of the Saudi Food and Drug Authority (SFDA), when asked about the new virus strain found in Al-Kharj.

The monitoring agencies are concerned mainly because viruses of the H5 and H7 subtypes are known to cause the highly pathogenic form of the disease.

The statement said the detection of the case took place on Thursday at one of the egg farms there. On detection, all the birds at the farm were killed. The site was cleaned and disinfected and the farm was closed. The statement urged the owners of poultry farms as well as citizens and residents to report any suspicious case on telephone 01-403-0911 or the toll free number 800-247-0000 or at the nearest branch of the Agriculture Ministry.

Referring to the status of avian flu cases in Saudi Arabia, Al-Buthi said, “We have culled more than 20,000 chickens over the last two days, including 7,000 birds found on the impounded trucks yesterday.”

The SFDA official said the persistence of H5N1 in poultry poses the risk of direct infection when the virus passes from the birds to humans, resulting in severe illness. “But not a single case of human infection has been reported in Saudi Arabia so far,” he said.

All 21 people, who were under observation in hospitals across the Kingdom after developing symptoms similar to those associated with avian flu, have been tested negative for the virus.

The SFDA said in a statement the new cases of bird flu “do not constitute any danger for consumption of poultry and eggs that are produced by Saudi farms, which are always under surveillance”.

This SFDA advised the shops and the consumers to buy chicken and eggs from known sources, to clean hands very carefully with water and soap and disinfect cutting boards. The chicken and eggs must be well cooked before consumption, said the SFDA, while warning against using uncooked eggs “to prepare mayonnaise or meals that do not need high heat for its cooking as well as avoiding eating roasted and half-boiled egg”.

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