HONG KONG -- Government officials here said all chickens in the territory will be killed and burned in an effort to curb a mysterious "bird flu" responsible for four deaths since last August.
In addition to the four deaths, 12 people have been made ill by the virus, and at least nine more cases are suspected. Strangely, none of the victims are poultry workers, health officials said.
In the slaughter, which began last week, up to 1.3 million chickens from about 1,000 markets and 160 farms on Hong Kong, Kowloon and the New Territories will be killed. In addition, all poultry -- including ducks, geese, quail, partridges and pigeons -- kept near chickens, are to be destroyed as a precaution.
The government said 1,000 workers are needed to conduct the slaughter. Officials said poultry workers whose chickens are destroyed will be compensated. The government did not estimate the cost of the operation.
Prior to the slaughter, government officials here banned poultry imports from mainland China.
Food-industry observers expect the slaughter to increase demand for frozen chickens imported from the United States and Australia.
The World Health Organization, Geneva, last week said there was no need for travel restrictions to Hong Kong.
U.S. health officials said there was little chance of the flu spreading to the United States since the majority of poultry is domestic and because of stricter inspection requirements. The four fatalities all died from complications of the virus, which has a two- to three-day incubation period and causes coughing, fever, muscle pains and pneumonia.
Food-safety experts say the virus can be killed if the chicken is properly cooked at 162 degrees Fahrenheit.