Bangalore/ Mumbai: India is maintaining a “strict vigil” on West Bengal to prevent an outbreak of avian flu from infecting humans after the disease spread to a new district on Monday, the government said.
The outbreak is the 10th in India since the lethal H5N1 avian influenza virus was first reported to have killed poultry there in February 2006.
“All precautionary measures have been taken,” Anisur Rahman, West Bengal’s animal resources minister, said on Sunday. The government has stocked hospitals with drugs, such as Roche Holding AG’s Tamiflu, and health workers are raising public awareness of the possibility of infection from handling dead or sick poultry, he had said.
Hit hard: A chicken seller awaits customers at his shop in Rajabazar wholesale goat market in Kolkata. Sales of chicken have been badly affected due to bird flu scare in the state. (Photo: Indranil Bhoumik/ Mint)
No cases among humans in India have been recorded from the H5N1 strain, which the world health authorities say risks becoming better adapted to humans, sparking a global pandemic. Two women died from H5N1 in the last two weeks in Indonesia, bringing the number of human cases worldwide to 350 since 2003.
“I hope that situation won’t arise (in India),” Rahman said.
More than three of every five cases in humans have been fatal and were caused by contact with infected poultry, according to the World Health Organization. Early signs of the disease range from fever and cough to diarrhoea and vomiting, researchers said in a 17 January report in the New England Journal of Medicine.
More than 98,254 chickens have died in an outbreak covering seven districts of West Bengal, the Union government said in a statement posted on its website.
“There are chances of humans being infected,” said Ranjana Deshmukh of the Mumbai-based department of virology. “If say, 100 people get infected, at least between 70 and 80 will die of pulmonary pneumonia. The government should take preventive measures such as keeping farmers away from the dead birds and raising awareness,” she said. The government must also compensate the farmers adequately as their livelihood depends on the poultry in most cases, Deshmukh added.
The disease has spread to Bankura district, the government said on Monday.
“A target of culling 600,000 chickens in the two districts of Birbhum and Murshidabad has been fixed,” Rahman said. “It is progressing satisfactorily in other districts of Dinajpur and Burdwan as well.”
The number of teams involved in culling will increase to 300 from 60 by Monday, Rahman said. There is no shortage of volunteers or personnel to cull the birds and no other birds or animals have been affected by the infection, he said. Villagers objected to culling initially and there was a “problem regarding the mode of compensation,” Rahman said. The government has paid at least Rs4 crore as compensation to the villagers affected by the culling operations, he said. “Due to a lack of awareness, the farmers had resisted,” the minister said. “They are supporting us now.”
West Bengal consumes on average 13.7 million eggs daily and 1.2 million kg chicken meat, or about 900,000 birds, according to Venky’s (India) Ltd, the country’s biggest supplier of poultry products.
The estimated loss to the state’s poultry and poultry products industry and trade could exceed Rs600 crore. “The losses are more from exports being hit rather than local consumption being affected,” Anuradha Desai, chairman of Venky’s, said. “Consumption in West Bengal has been hit and it’s largely limited to that market.”
Meanwhile, the agriculture ministry has been apprised by state governments of Orissa, Chhattisgarh, and Assam that their districts bordering West Bengal continue to remain on high alert and all poultry and feedstock movements have been stopped.
Siddhartha Sarma of Mint contributed to this story.