New Delhi, Feb. 22: India’s top health official today hinted that the bird flu virus H5N1 has jumped from poultry into humans in Navapur, but investigating scientists cautioned that there was no conclusive evidence for this yet.
The spread of the virus from poultry to humans is a “distinct possibility that cannot be wished away”, health secretary Prasanna Hota said. The results from preliminary tests are “suggestive of such transmission”.
He said there was a distinct possibility of human infection and indicated that the infection was detected in a small number of the 12 persons in Navapur who have been under observation for mild cold and cough and had reported diseased chickens on their farms.
“All field staff and people who’ve had contact with diseased poultry (in Navapur) should take this episode seriously,” Hota said.
All 12 persons have symptoms of only upper respiratory infection, and none of them shows any sign whatsoever of lower respiratory tract infection or pneumonia ' the typical, severe and life-threatening symptoms of H5N1 infection, health officials said.
They have been in an isolation ward in a local hospital and have received the anti-viral drug oseltamivir as a precaution, the officials said.
A leading medical scientist who has been monitoring the tests on blood samples and throat secretions of people from Navapur said it would be premature to draw any inferences from the findings.
The scientist told The Telegraph that the laboratory findings so far could be only described as “very preliminary”, and would need to be authenticated before claiming a confirmed result of whether there was H5N1 in the human samples or not.
“I’m not going to say anything, until I’m absolutely sure whether it (the result) is positive or negative,” the scientist said on condition of anonymity.
A senior health official said that among the 95 samples of human blood and nose and throat secretions sent for analysis, 90 had tested negative for H5N1, and five were still undergoing tests on Wednesday night.
The standard laboratory diagnostic tests for H5N1 involve looking for genetic residues of the virus in the nose and throat samples of patients. This is done through a series of tests ' an initial set of tests followed by a subsequent test set to confirm diagnosis.
“We expect to have confirmed results tomorrow,” the official said.
If it turns out that any person in Navapur is indeed infected with H5N1, India will be the eighth country where avian influenza H5N1 has jumped from birds into humans.
The health ministry today also asked the Maharashtra authorities to intensify surveillance in the region. They particularly want to look for seven poultry workers who have yet to be traced.
The government has decided to double its order for oseltamivir from 100,000 courses to 200,000 courses of treatment. Hota said today the government has earmarked Rs 80 crore to combat bird flu.
Reports from Maharashtra said over 200,000 chickens in a 10-km radius in Navapur had been culled till today.
Of the over 60,000 inhabitants of the affected area, medical teams had completed a survey of 50,000 people to check for bird flu symptoms. Some 237 people had reported “routine fever symptoms”.