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Bird flu test puts Birbhum on six-day wait

Bhopal/Santiniketan, Jan. 14: The High Security Animal Disease Laboratory in Bhopal today said there was no reason to panic as samples sent from Birbhum had not yet tested positive for bird flu but the district authorities geared up to cull chickens.

Over 15,000 chickens have died in Margram, about 280km from Calcutta, and some other villages over the past 10 days.

The director of the Bhopal laboratory, S.C. Dubey, said: “There is no need to panic. We have received samples from Margram and Dinapur. Our scientists are conducting tests and it will take six days to arrive at any conclusion.”

He denied reports that either he or his lab had indicated the possibility of the existence of the deadly H5N1 virus in the samples. “We work according to WHO guidelines and, therefore, are in no position to confirm anything till the entire process has been completed,” Dubey said.

Animal resources development minister Anisur Rahman yesterday said the Centre had told the state government that preliminary reports on the samples sent to Bhopal suggested bird flu.

Some samples have also been sent to the National Institute of Virology, Pune.

Rahman today said: “There is no confirmation yet on whether the deaths were caused by bird flu or the Ranikhet disease but we have issued a statewide alert.”

At Birbhum headquarters Suri, district magistrate Tapan Kumar Som drew up plans to begin culling the moment bird flu was confirmed.

“All chickens within a 5km radius of the affected area will have to be killed. The government will compensate the owners,” he said.

Selling and buying chickens have been banned in Rampurhat blocks I and II and the Rampurhat municipal area.

Fifty teams have been formed for the culling exercise. Teams have been sent to disinfect areas where the culling will take place.

A campaign on bird flu was launched over public address systems and leaflets mentioning dos and don’ts were distributed in Rampurhat.

“We have asked villagers to cover their face and hands while providing feed to chickens. Also, we are asking them to use plastic packets as gloves while handling chicken. Diseased chickens have to be isolated,” an official said.

An isolation ward has been opened at Rampurhat Hospi- tal under instructions from Calcutta.

In Bhopal, Dubey said his lab had taken almost a week to confirm the outbreak of avian flu in Nandurbar district of Maharashtra in 2006 and in Imphal, Manipur, last year.

“The (Birbhum) district authorities are advised to take precautions in the meantime,” Dubey said.

In Nandurbar, about a million birds had to be culled after the existence of the H5N1 virus was confirmed.

The virus causes a type of influenza in birds that is highly contagious among them and can be deadly. It does not usu- ally infect people unless they come in close contact with infected birds or contaminated surfaces.

The bird flu scare has come barely a week after the Union agriculture ministry claimed that the country had achieved freedom from the disease on November 7 last year. It had notified the WHO accordingly.

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