Avian Influenza
223,000 birds culled in India, avian flu contained: officials
Feb 22, 2006 - 3:16:37 PM

Indian authorities Tuesday claimed to have stopped the possible spread of avian flu from the country's western region with the culling of 223,000 chickens, saying the focus would now be on cleanup operations and the rehabilitation of poultry farmers.

"More than 150,000 birds have been culled in Maharashtra and 73,000 in Gujarat," Upma Chawdhry, joint secretary (animal husbandry) in the agriculture ministry, told a news briefing here.

The culling operations were conducted in a three-kilometre radius of Maharashtra's Navapur village, 300 km from state capital Mumbai, where India's first case of avian flu was confirmed Saturday.

The authorities had previously planned to vaccinate all birds in a radius of another seven kilometres but have now decided to cull these as well.

"The suggestion came from the farmers themselves as they felt vaccination would lead to a tedious process of waiting to see if it was effective. We will now be culling another 100,000 chickens," Chawdhry said.

The dead birds were being disposed of by being buried.

"Simultaneously, the farms are being cleared of feed, manure, droppings and other poultry material," Chawdhry said.

Poultry farmers whose birds had been put down will begin receiving compensation from Wednesday.

"We will pay Rs.40 a broiler chicken and Rs.10 a chick. This will be shared on a 50:50 basis by the central and state governments. The money has already been put at the disposal of the state governments," said Secretary (Animal Husbandry) P.M.A. Hakeem.

However, it will be another three months before farmers can resume operations "and we will have to see how we can help them during this period", Commissioner (Animal Husbandry) S.K. Bandhopadhyaya said.

In the midst of all this, different arms of the government continued to send out differing signals on the threat from the H5N1 strain of avian influenza.

The agriculture ministry sent an advisory to state-owned Air India and Indian Airlines, as well as to Indian Railways, that it was perfectly safe to eat chicken as long as it was thoroughly cooked at 70 degrees Celsius.

This was done after the three organisations dropped chicken from meals they serve on their aircraft and trains.

However, the procurement of poultry and poultry products was suspended by the armed forces.

A directive from the Remount and Veterinary Corps (RVC), responsible for vetting all meat and poultry purchases for the million-strong army, said "all fresh consignments of poultry to the armed forces be stopped" till further orders.

In Mumbai, an official of the Maharashtra government's animal husbandry department denied international norms were being flouted in the culling exercise.

This was in response to reports from Navapur that many poultry farmers, who were asked to dispose of their birds by civic authorities, packed them in gunny bags and buried them alive. At many places, people handled birds without any protective gear.

"We are following all the rules prescribed by the World Health Organisation. The exercise seems to be progressing a little slowly just because poultry farmers are reluctant to kill their birds," said the official.

Officials in Mumbai also said they were awaiting reports of tests conducted on over 100 people in Navapur to ascertain if the virus had infected humans.

"So far, we have not come across any case of human avian influenza," said Maharashtra Health Secretary Vijay Satbir Singh.

"We have collected 104 blood samples from people in the area. The samples have been sent for tests and we are expecting reports in a couple of days," Singh told IANS.

Besides this, 10 people, eight of them children, were kept under observation after they reported flu-like symptoms. About 40,000 people have been surveyed in the affected region.

"The door-to-door campaign is being carried out on a priority basis to detect any human infection. As of now, we have not come across any case that showed human avian human influenza-like symptoms," Singh said.

Across India, state governments have stepped up efforts to prevent the spread of bird flu.

There was particular consternation in Punjab - traditionally known as the land of butter and tandoori chicken.

Punjab's Animal Husbandry Minister Jagmohan Singh Kang and officials painted an "all-clear" picture, but sales of chicken and eggs have nose-dived by 30 to 50 percent in the past three days.

The Orissa government sounded an alert across the state and set up control rooms at Cuttack and Bhubaneswar to monitor the situation.

Thousands of doses of poultry vaccine were distributed to farms across Orissa, even as the government Tuesday imposed a 15-day ban on the import of chicken from neighbouring states.

Goa, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal too banned poultry supplies from Maharashtra.

The H5N1 strain of bird flu has resulted in nearly 100 human casualties across Southeast Asia, mostly in Vietnam. It has so far been reported in seven countries.

India is the world's sixth largest producer of eggs and the fifth largest producer of broiler chickens. It produced 43 billion eggs and 1.7 billion broilers in 2005, according to industry estimates.

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