New Delhi: India confirmed an outbreak of bird flu in poultry on Wednesday 25 July, the first this year, but officials said it was apparently an isolated case and were yet to verify if it was the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain.
The outbreak was located on a small farm on the outskirts of Imphal, capital of the remote Manipur state in the country’s northeast, where 133 chickens out of 144 died this month.
“We have avian influenza,” Upma Chawdhry, joint secretary in the federal Animal Husbandry Department, told Reuters, adding that authorities would confirm whether it was H5N1 later.
Medical teams will check about 450,000 people in and around Imphal to see if they have coughs or fever or other bird flu symptoms.
Officials said it was a precautionary measure.
There were no suspected human cases or symptoms of bird flu among the 21 people on the poultry farm and nine veterinary personnel, all of whom were on Tamiflu. The drug is widely used to treat bird flu symptoms in people or given as a preventive.
“There is never any harm on erring on the side of caution,” Chawdhry said after a news conference.
Local officials said veterinary workers would start culling chickens, ducks and other birds within a 5-km (3-mile) radius of the farm on Thursday 26 July.
About 150,000 birds would be killed over 10 days.
“It is an isolated case. No reports have come from other parts of the state,” said Dorendro Singh, director of Manipur’s veterinary and animal husbandry department.
Manipur, a tiny state that is racked by separatist violence, borders Myanmar, which has fought outbreaks of the H5N1 strain of bird flu among poultry this year.
Becoming regional headache?
Officials said they would investigate whether Myanmar or Bangladesh was the source of the outbreak.
India, with an overstretched public health-care system, has reported no bird flu cases among humans.
The country has a multi-billion dollar poultry industry and has had nearly a dozen alerts this year before the new outbreak.
It declared itself bird flu free last August after two major outbreaks of H5N1 among chickens in western areas in 2006.
New Delhi was praised by international agencies for its handling of last year’s outbreaks, especially its quick compensation to farmers.
Border guards have been ordered to stop people bringing in poultry illegally from Bangladesh, China and Myanmar, Chawdhry said.
China and Bangladesh -- which share borders with India’s northeast -- have reported bird flu among chickens this year, with China also reporting human cases and deaths due to the H5N1 strain.
Some Indian officials have said that impoverished Bangladesh had struggled to contain its outbreaks, and feared that the bird flu virus would spread to neighbouring Indian states.
To India’s west, Pakistan has also reported cases of H5N1 in commercial poultry this year.
India has about 490 million chickens of which around 40 percent is backyard poultry across thousands of villages.
Globally, the H5N1 virus has killed nearly 200 people out of more than 300 known cases, according to the World Health Organisation, while hundreds of millions of birds have died or been slaughtered.
Witnesses in Imphal said chickens were being still sold in markets, but some people said they would not eat chicken.
“Now we are really scared to eat chicken,” Prem Adhikari, a local resident told Reuters by telephone.