Avian Influenza
India launches war against bird flu
Feb 20, 2006 - 3:58:37 PM

India was on high alert Sunday, a day after the deadly H5N1 strain of the bird flu virus surfaced in Maharashtra, with authorities taking determined steps to effectively isolate the affected region.

Although there has been no official confirmation of human casualties, a health ministry official in New Delhi said the government was investigating the reported death of a man in Nandurbar district, some 300 km northeast of Mumbai.

Said Prasanna Hota, health secretary in the central government: "One death was reported in the area. Though it was not due to avian influenza we are not taking any chances and every casualty in the affected area due to fever and illness is being investigated.

"Their blood samples have been sent to Pune and results are awaited."

Maharashtra's health department is taking no chances. It said it had put in place a foolproof machinery to check the spread of the disease from Nandurbar.

"We have already administered 1,000 capsules of Demiflu to people in the affected region and another 9,000 capsules have been made available," said Vijay Satbir Singh, Maharashtra's public health secretary.

"All those who have come in close contact with the affected poultry, including poultry owners, labourers and feed handlers, have been taken into consideration for treatment," Singh told IANS.

According to him, a survey was being conducted in the village of Navapur, where the first case was confirmed Saturday by the High Security Animal Disease Laboratory in Bhopal.

The state government had said that 300,000 to 1 million chickens would have to be culled to curb the virus that has killed 50,000 birds in Maharashtra.

Maharashtra Health Minister Anees Ahmed was touring the region to over see the operations there, Singh said.

"The central government had made available personal protective gear to all those coming in close contact with the affected birds," he said.

In Bangalore, India's Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss said the government would vaccinate poultry in Nandurbar district.

"Nearly all the birds in the vicinity are going to be vaccinated. About one million doses of bird vaccines are going to go (there)," Ramadoss told reporters late Saturday.

The minister said there was no need to panic and all government agencies were working on a war footing to contain the bird flu outbreak, the first in India.

He said there were sufficient stocks of the bird flu vaccine, Tamiflu, if cases were found in humans.

"There is no problem of drugs. We have sufficient drugs and are in the process of procuring more of them. About 100,000 doses of Tamiflu are with us. Getting additional supplies is not a problem," Ramadoss said.

Central health ministry secretary Prasanna Hota said there were a dozen active cases of people who were unwell and had been kept under observation though there were no clinical symptoms of cold and respiratory distress.

He added that all the states had been advised to be on the lookout for suspected cases.

Gujarat is taking active steps to check the spread of the dreaded virus. The government sent 11 veterinary teams and set up a 24-hour monitoring cell in Surat district of south Gujarat.

"The teams will vaccinate the poultry from today (Sunday) to prevent the disease from spreading across the state border," said D.K. Rao, secretary, animal husbandry department.

The avian flu has so far been reported in seven countries. More than 140 million chickens have been slaughtered in an effort to contain the disease, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

India is the sixth largest producer of eggs and fifth largest in the broiler chicken output. The country produced 43 billion eggs and 1.7 billion broilers in 2005, according to poultry industry estimates.

Exports account for a negligible portion of the production, mostly to the Gulf region.

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