The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Flu fear grips Assam after poultry deaths

Feb. 6: Reports of over 1,000 poultry deaths in Assam’s Dhubri district during the past few days set alarm bells ringing in the state, but the veterinary department allayed fears of an outbreak of avian flu by saying the chickens had died of a “common winter infection”.

The Dhubri district administration said poultry deaths were an “annual phenomenon because of cold”. Deputy commissioner Prasanta Kumar Baruah quoted from a veterinary report, which said poultry deaths had been caused by “coccidiosis, a common winter infection in fowls and chicken”.

The authorities are, however, leaving nothing to chance. Samples are being collected for confirmatory laboratory tests in Guwahati. “There is no evidence to prove that the bird deaths have occurred from avian flu, but we are sending samples to Guwahati for confirmation,” the deputy commissioner said.

The poultry deaths reportedly occurred in the remote char areas — riverine sandbanks — over the past few days. The administration, however, came to know about the bird deaths only today. The officer in charge of the district veterinary and animal husbandry department, Mrinal Kanti Chaki, said there was no reason to panic yet. “We have not even thought of imposing a ban on the sale and consumption of chicken. It is not required,” he said.

Most of the deaths have been reported from Chalakura and Birsing along the Indo-Bangladesh border. These two places have as many as 29 poultry farms. “About 1,000 deaths in a population of approximately 12,000 is not abnormal,” the deputy commissioner said.

After news of the deaths reached Dhubri, a team of veterinary doctors visited some of the villages to collect samples.

The owner of a poultry farm in Dhubri town said his stock seemed to be “in fine health”. On whether he had taken precautionary measures, the farm owner said: “I have not thought about the possibility of bird flu, though I have read about it in newspapers. Death of poultry in winter is not uncommon.”

In neighbouring Nagaland, the government banned the sale of poultry and associated products from today as reports of avian flu assuming alarming proportions in Southeast Asia came in.

Nagaland and Manipur are considered to be “marginally susceptible” because of their proximity to Myanmar.

Manipur last week banned the import of poultry and other birds from Myanmar.

The Nagaland government has set up two committees to monitor the situation. The animal disease emergency committee includes the chief secretary and the additional chief secretary (home). Veterinary and animal husbandry department officers will be the pivots of the “threat-reduction programme”.

The government has also set up district-level emergency committees, headed by the deputy commissioners.

Additional chief secretary (home) P. Talitemjen said in Kohima that the ban should not be construed as a sign of panic. “No emergency has been declared so far. The veterinary department is merely monitoring the situation.”

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