NEW DELHI: With thousands of birds dying in several states due to Avian Influenza (or bird flu), the Centre on Wednesday tried to allay fear about transmission of the disease from poultry to humans. Though there is no direct evidence that AI viruses can be transmitted to humans via the consumption of contaminated poultry products, the government advised people to properly cook eggs and meat, especially chicken and ducks, before consuming them.
"In some places there have been reports of migratory and wild birds dying from bird flu. Cook the meat and eggs completely before eating. There is nothing to worry. All possible help is being given and states have been alerted," Union minister for animal husbandry Giriraj Singh tweeted in Hindi.
The Centre on Wednesday identified 12 epicentres of the bird flu in Kerala, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh and deployed multi-disciplinary teams to handle the disease. It also issued advisories to other states to contain further spread of the infection in poultry ducks, crows and migratory birds and to keep a vigil on any unusual mortality among birds.
As per the action plan on Avian Influenza, the ministry of fisheries, animal husbandry and dairying has suggested that the affected states strengthen the biosecurity of poultry farms, disinfect affected areas, properly dispose dead birds/carcasses, ensure timely collection and submission of samples for confirmation and intensify surveillance to prevent the disease from spreading.
The ministry said it has set up a "control room" in New Delhi to keep a watch on the situation and to take stock on a daily basis of the preventive and control measures being undertaken by states. Currently states send tissue samples of birds suspected to harbour the virus to the ICAR-National Institute of High Security Animal Disease, Bhopal.
The animal husbandry minister’s deputy Sanjiv Balyan said that five states have reported bird flu but there has been no case of transmission to humans in India. But the government said that secondary spread by human handling (through fomites) cannot be ruled out.
A circular issued by the Union environment ministry’s wildlife division said, “Large number of migratory birds visit India in this season. Movement of birds to wetlands is also possible. It is requested to keep strict vigil on the wintering habits of migratory birds, including wetlands, for any mortality or disease outbreak signs.”
The circular said that the workers involved in culling operations should wear rubber gloves and protective clothing that can be disinfected or disposed of, use protective eyewear and ought to be taking an influenza antiviral drug daily for the time that they are in direct contact with infected birds or in a containment zone.
The bird flu outbreak has been reported a few months after India, on September 30, 2020, declared the country free from the disease which spreads mainly through migratory birds coming in during the winter months, September-October to February-March.
The Avian Influenza has already hit at least 10 European countries — Netherlands, Germany, France, Belgium, United Kingdom, Denmark, Sweden, Poland, Croatia, and Ukraine in the last few weeks. Cases have also been reported in South Korea and Japan. The United Kingdom has seen disturbing scenes of swans spinning in circles and bleeding from their nostrils, a phenomena being investigated for its possible link to the bird flu.
India, which notified the first outbreak of Avian Influenza in 2006, has now reported Avian Influenza cases in Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana, and Gujarat. Jammu and Kashmir, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu have also been put on a high alert.
Of the 12 epicenters in India, the bird flu has been reported in crows in Baran, Kota, Jhalawar region of Rajasthan as well as Mandsaur, Indore, Malwa areas of Madhya Pradesh. Whereas in Himachal Pradesh, the infection was found in migratory birds in Kangra region and in poultry ducks in Kottayam, Alappuzha in Kerala.
Kerala initiated control and containment operations on Tuesday at its epicenters, including the culling process of chicken and ducks. In Himachal Pradesh, another advisory was issued on Tuesday to avoid further spread of the infection. Madhya Pradesh government has banned chicken trade from the southern states for the next 10 days.
In Kerala, about 12,000 ducks have died due to the flu in Alappuzha and Kottayam where bird flu has been declared a state disaster. About 36,000 birds would be culled in the state. The trade of poultry meat and eggs has also been banned in the state’s affected districts. In Kottayam district, 11,000 birds will be culled as bird flu was detected in the ducklings of farmers in Neendoor panchayat. The process to test humans to detect symptoms in them has also been started.
Haryana has reported the death of about 4 lakh birds in the past 10 days in Panchkula district, following which the authorities issued an advisory on poultry products. Barwala-based poultry farms in the Hisar district of Haryana have reported deaths of about 1.5 lakh birds in the past one week.
At the epicenter in Rajasthan, about 100 crows died on Wednesday. Other than this, peacocks, pigeons, and koyals have also died. The number of birds which died in Rajasthan in the recent days reached over 700. The fatalities were reported in 16 of the 33 districts of Rajasthan.
Nearly 400 crows have died due to viral infection in Madhya Pradesh. After a review meeting, chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan claimed that bird flu was not found in any poultry farm in the affected areas.
More than 2,300 migratory birds have died in Himachal Pradesh due to bird flu outbreak. Most of the birds that died of H5N1 avian influenza are bar-headed geese in the Pong Dam reservoir area in the Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh.
The first outbreak of H5N1 in India was recorded 15 years ago in February 2006 at a poultry industry in Maharashtra’s Nandurbar district. There was a major outbreak in West Bengal in 2008 and another one in Kerala in 2014.