The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Death blow to culling team

Imphal, July 28: A member of the rapid response team of Manipur’s veterinary department, which has been engaged in culling poultry since bird flu was detected in the state last week, died this morning after reportedly consuming formalin, a solution being used to spray burial sites of culled birds.

Salam Babuyaima, a 53-year-old grade IV employee of the department, collapsed around 8.30am while the team was preparing to depart for the day’s culling operations in Imphal East and West districts. He died at the Jawaharlal Nehru Hospital an hour later.

Veterinary and health officials, who carried out routine health check-ups of the team this morning, ruled out any connection between the incident and avian influenza.

Health officials said Babuyaima was found fit during the check-up. He was also staying at the quarantine opened at the veterinary hospital along with more than 100 members of the team since the very first day of operations.

Culling of poultry has started on Thursday, following confirmation on Wednesday that more than 100 birds had died of the deadly H5N1 strain of avian influenza at a farm in Chingmeirong in Imphal East.

Officials said before leaving for work today, Babuyaima was asked to keep an eye on the materials collected by his team for the operations.

“He was holding an 800ml bottle of formalin and spray equipment. The team went down with the items from the quarantine while the grade IV employee lagged behind. On being asked, he informed (the team members) that he had consumed formalin,” an official statement said.

Babuyaima collapsed on his bed in the quarantine ward and was immediately rushed to the hospital, where he died. The formalin he consumed was highly concentrated, an official said.

Veterinary and health officials informed chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh, who decided that the post-mortem report would be made public to dispel any fear regarding the cause of the death.

Veterinary director Th. Dorendro Singh also said the post-mortem report would be made public.

Veterinary officials said they had not observed Babuyaima behaving abnormally over the past few days.

Officials are tightlipped about why the employee consumed formalin. Investigations are on.

Culling operations continued today, despite the incident. However, progress was slow. While 16,000 poultry were killed by 3.30pm yesterday, only 9,800 were killed by the same time today.

Dorendro Singh denied that there was panic in the team, but admitted that the slow progress could be because of the incident.

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