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Flu belt cowers in fear of hidden chickens

Mumbai, Feb. 24: Amid the war against disease, Navapur is readying for a possible battle against religious fervour, too.

Chicken sacrifice is a feature of one of the area’s biggest festivals, the seven-day Mahashivratri that starts from Sunday this year.

Officially, all 2 lakh chickens in the town and areas within 10 km of it have been culled, but the administration fears some “one to two thousand” may have been hidden away somewhere to be sold during the festival.

“Chicken sacrifice at the temples during Mahashivratri is a custom unique to the area,” Nandurbar district collector Jayant Gaikwad said over the phone from Navapur.

“Though we have culled birds and cleared the whole area, there could be one to two thousand chickens concealed somewhere. We have launched a special drive to trace them now before the yatra (a march that kicks off the festival) begins on February 26.”

Gaikwad said the number of patients quarantined at the Navapur sub-district hospital remained stuck at 13 today. But an animal husbandry department official, who had been in the cull teams, was admitted and placed under observation in the isolation ward.

Yesterday, the government said 94 of the 95 human blood samples examined at the National Institute of Virology, Pune, had tested negative for the avian flu virus. The report on the remaining sample is expected on Saturday. The results of tests on a later batch of 202 samples sent to the institute are expected on Tuesday.

The collector said the high temperatures in Navapur could be the reason the bird flu had not infected humans.

“Navapur and Nandurbar touch temperatures of 45 to 49 degrees. Virology experts believe that in such high temperatures, the flu virus becomes fragile even if transmitted to human beings.”

Animal husbandry officials confirmed that over 200 birds have been found dead at a lake at Gandheli in Aurangabad district, about 250-300 km from Navapur. Forest officials and a team of ornithologists from the Bombay Natural History Society reached the spot today.

“Our team reported that the birds have been dying over the past three or four days. They include waders that come from Russia and Siberia and return by March. One female spot-billed duck and one red-water lapwing, which breed in India, were also found dead. Four samples have been taken and will be sent to the Bhopal laboratory,” BNHS director Dr Asad Rehmani said.

Dr Rehmani said the preliminary findings of a BNHS team that had visited Navapur suggest migratory birds were not to blame for the avian flu outbreak among chicken there.

Government officials said samples had been taken also from villages in Nandurbar and Hingoli districts that reported bird deaths and were being sent to Bhopal.

Blood samples from a dead 12-year-old boy from Malegaon in Nashik, who had been admitted to J.J. Hospital in Mumbai, have been sent to NIV, Pune. A farmer’s son, the boy was being treated for meningtis and pneumonia, doctors said.

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