Panic over bird flu outbreak

The outbreak of bird flu in four states has posed a fresh challenge to Indian authorities still battling the Covid-19 pandemic, even though there is no reported case of human infection yet.

The Central government on Wednesday set up a control room to monitor the situation and to track preventive and control measures in states.

Avian influenza (AI), commonly called bird flu, has been reported from Rajasthan (in crows at Baran, Kota and Jhalawar), Madhya Pradesh (in crows at Mandsaur, Indore and Malwa), Himachal Pradesh (in migratory birds at Kangra) and Kerala (in farmed ducks in Kottayam and Alappuzha districts).

Local media have reported close to 75,000 deaths, predominantly of ducks, crows and migratory birds.

Kerala, which was the first state to report Covid-19 in India and is still recording the highest number of national daily infections, has already declared bird flu a state disaster.

The state began control and containment operations on Tuesday at its four epicentres, where culling is on. About 50,000 ducks have been culled in Alappuzha and Kottayam districts and the Kerala government has sanctioned compensation to the duck farmers.

Madhya Pradesh, which saw a surge in Covid-19 infections and deaths, is also facing the same challenge.

Bird flu comes to India through migratory birds crossing the country in the winter months.

Even though the disease is zoonotic - meaning it can spread from animals to humans - no such case has yet been reported in India. But the Central government said such transmission by handling the infected birds cannot be ruled out.

"Infection in humans is not yet reported. There is no direct evidence that AI viruses can be transmitted to humans via the consumption of contaminated poultry products," the Central Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying said in a statement.

It has set up a control room in New Delhi to keep watch on the situation and to take stock on a daily basis of preventive and control measures undertaken by the state authorities.

Accordingly, an advisory was issued to Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh on Jan 1 to check the further spread of the infection. A similar advisory was issued on Jan 5 to Himachal Pradesh.

The news about the bird flu spread has triggered panic among the public, who fear that the viral disease may also turn into an epidemic. However, health experts in India have negated such a possibility and advised people to take precautions.

Doctors said that the risk of human-to-human transmission of the H5N1 virus that causes bird flu is very rare unless one works in proximity with the infected birds.

"People who work closely with poultry are at high risk of getting the infection. Otherwise, human to human transmission of the H5N1 virus is very rare. Hence there is no need to panic," said Dr Harshal R. Salve, associate professor at the Centre for Community Medicine, All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi.

In the affected state, people have started to avoid eggs and chicken meat in fear that they might carry the H5N1 virus. While there is no connection between the spread of bird flu and consumption of eggs, doctors have suggested avoiding undercooked poultry products and meat for a while.

Indo-Asian News Service


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