Mass Chicken Die Off Raises Bird Flu Scare In Palau

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Preliminary tests on stricken birds negative or inconclusive

KOROR, Palau (Island Times, April 1, 2014) – Palau is in for a scare after more than a hundred chickens died over the weekend at one of the largest local egg suppliers in this island nation.

According to Bureau of Agriculture (BA) Director Fred Sengebau, they were notified on Thursday, March 27, that many chickens at the Palau Mission Academy (PMA) poultry farm in Airai State have fallen ill.

Sengebau said that personnel from the National Quarantine Office, Bureau of Public Health, and the Koror Animal Shelter went to the site after they were notified of the problem.

Sengebau said the sick chickens started to die over the weekend.

"By Monday morning, we counted 171 died chickens, "Sengebau disclosed. The farm houses over 6,000 chickens that are breed for egg production. The farm also sells live chicken.

According to him, some of the sick chickens just fall down and died in the presence of the visiting personnel.

Sengebau said that Avian Influenza or Bird Flu is suspected, though initial tests proved inconclusive.

The Director said that 33 of the dead chickens were tested for Bird Flu. He said 30 samples tested negative of Bird Flu, while the results for the remaining three samples were inconclusive.

Avian Influenza — known informally as Avian Flu or Bird Flu — refers to "influenza caused by viruses adapted to birds.

Most human contractions of the avian flu are a result of either handling dead infected birds or from contact with infected fluids. While most wild birds mainly have only a mild form of the H5N1 strain, once domesticated birds such as chickens or turkeys are infected, it could become much more deadly because the birds are often within close contact of one another.

There is currently a large threat of this in Asia with infected poultry due to low hygiene conditions and close quarters. Although it is easy for humans to become infected from birds, it's much more difficult to do so from human to human without close and lasting contact.

The area is under quarantine and people are advised not to go in or near the place. The workers at the farm were also isolated at the site. An undetermined number of workers, including some Filipinos, are working at the PMA farm.

Two of the workers have complained of sore throat and headache. Public Health personnel have checked on them and are monitoring their situation.

The Agriculture Director said that they called the Palau Consulate in Guam for somebody to bring in from Guam the testing kits needed for gathering samples.

"Hopefully, we can bring the samples to Hawaii this evening," he stressed. He said that a laboratory in Hawaii will test the sample and the results are expected soon after.

The PMA Farm, which is located in Ngerekil, Airai, is the largest local supplier of eggs in this island nation.

The farm, which has been in operation for more than 30 years now, is run by the Palau Mission Academy (PMA), which is a secondary school run by the Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) Church.

Senegbau said that there have been previous reports of mass chicken die-offs in this island nation. But according to him, those were smaller cases and did not involve bird flu.

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