New Delhi: West Bengal is implementing what is likely to turn into the most extensive poultry culling operation in India, since at least 300,000 chickens were killed in Gujarat and Maharashtra two years ago, after the government confirmed the reappearance of bird flu virus after nearly six months.
The virus, confirmed as the deadly H5N1, can infect and kill humans though no human cases have been reported in India so far. The first batches of Tamiflu medicine also reached the state on Tuesday.
The virus has killed more than 200 people worldwide since 2003.
Following news of poultry deaths that emerged on 12 January, culling has started in Birbhum and South Dinajpur districts, with West Bengal administration officials saying culling has also begun in the adjoining districts of Maldah and Mushidabad.
Damage control: Health workers bury a dead chicken at Margram village in West Bengal’s Birbhum district on Tuesday. Nearly 300,000 birds are expected to be culled in four districts of the state.
The number of birds on the culling list for these four districts would be near the 300,000 mark, said the Union agriculture ministry, with more than 30 tonnes of feedstock also slated to be destroyed. “Trade and transport in poultry, all forms of poultry products and feed have been stopped in these four districts by official proclamation,” said West Bengal minister for animal husbandry, Anisur Rehman. “We have also been informed that movement of poultry and products from West Bengal to other states has gone down as of now and might close for the time being.”
West Bengal’s total production of poultry and related products is nearly Rs450 crore per month, from broilers worth Rs100 crore to Rs75 crore of foodstock. This, besides Rs150 crore worth of eggs, foodstock and meat it imports every month from Andhra Pradesh and some other states, according to agriculture ministry data. The ministry is deciding on the appropriate response at the moment in terms of financial support for West Bengal poultry farmers.
Meanwhile, ministry officials continue to insist that the team of officials despatched to West Bengal was merely to “inspect the situation,” even as the state administration, finding its earlier claim of bird flu vindicated, has alleged that the Centre isn’t responding appropriately.
“We have confirmation...and we have informed the Union ministry accordingly. There can be little doubt about it at this stage, nor were we in doubt earlier. We are taking all possible measures but the Centre has to understand the urgency of the situation,” said Rehman.
“At this stage, we cannot add anything to our conclusions, although it is likely that the virus might have spread from adjoining Bangladesh. It is for the ministry to initiate action,” said S.C. Dubey, head of the High Security Animal Disease Laboratory.
Meanwhile, Union health minister Anbumani Ramadoss held a joint monitoring group meeting to discuss the situation even as two deputy directors from the National Institute of Communicable Diseases also reached the affected districts.
The flurry of activity, claims and counter-claims by the Central agencies and the affected state are similar to the last two instances of confirmed outbreak of the disease in the country. In late July, exactly a day after Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar announced India’s intention to declare itself bird flu-free, massive culling had to be ordered in and around Imphal in Manipur, in which 180,000 poultry had to be culled while 450,000 people had to be given preventive treatment. In February 2006, culling was ordered in Gujarat and adjoining districts of Maharashtra.
For now, humans usually contract the virus only after close contact with infected birds, with the virus killing nearly two-thirds of the people it infects. But experts worry it may mutate into a form easily transmitted from person to person, leading to a pandemic.
Around one-fifth of humanity could fall ill should there be another flu pandemic, according to estimates cited by the World Health Organization, with catastrophic effects on the global economy.
Reuters’ Krittivas Mukherjee in Mumbai and Bappa Majumdar in Kolkata contributed to this story.