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Calcutta, satellites flu-free: Official

New Delhi, Jan. 22: Poultry samples from Haringhata block in Nadia tested positive for bird flu today, but Calcutta and its five neighbouring districts are still free of the virus, officials said.

Samples from Calcutta, Hooghly, Howrah, South 24- Parganas, North 24-Parganas, and West Midnapore that were examined at the High Security Animal Disease Laboratory in Bhopal have tested negative, an official said.

“The situation is being controlled. But it’s not yet under control,” said animal husbandry commissioner Shantanu Bandopadhyay.

The Bhopal laboratory has confirmed avian influenza in poultry from Krishnagar I and Haringhata blocks of Nadia, Galsi, Jamuria, and Ketugram blocks of Burdwan, and Nalhati and Bolpur-Sriniketan in Birbhum.

“We saw a spurt in culling yesterday,” Bandopadhyay said. “More than 80,000 birds were culled yesterday, raising the cumulative culling figure to 240,000.”

Bengal health minister Surjya Kanta Mishra had said 150,000 birds were culled yesterday.

Poultry from Jharkhand also tested negative. But scientists said they were worried about the possibility of the virus spreading from Bengal to neighbouring states.

“If it crossed the international border, how much effort would it require to move across our districts or states,” a senior scientist said.

For the first time since the outbreak, the Union health ministry today said it was testing blood samples of sick people from Murshidabad and South Dinajpur.

But senior officials said none of these patients fit the diagnostic criteria for suspected case of avian influenza.

Five samples from patients in South Dinajpur were found to be negative for even influenza. Another set of samples from Murshidabad is under investigation at the National Institute of Virology, Pune.

“In our routine house-to-house surveillance, we’ve found people with respiratory infections, but none of them really fits the case definition of human avian influenza specified by the World Health Organization,” a senior scientist told The Telegraph.

The diagnostic criteria include a history of contact with sick poultry and clinical symptoms such as illness involving the lower respiratory tract (lungs) and a pneumonia-like sickness, the scientist said.

“We might have taken samples from ill people who show some pneumonia-like symptoms, but do not fit completely with the diagnostic criteria.”

Since the H5N1 avian influenza virus does not easily pass from birds to humans, a detailed history needs to be taken from suspected patients to determine whether they have had any close or direct contact with sick or dead poultry.

Over the past five years, only 350 people have fallen sick because of the H5N1 virus across dozens of countries. “It’s hard to imagine five people falling sick in a single district in a couple of weeks,” the scientist said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

However, the daily status report from the ministry of health today omitted a customary line — “No suspected human cases of avian influenza has been detected” — from its section describing health surveillance in Murshidabad.

The line, included in reports released over the past few days, appeared today on sections on Birbhum and South Dinajpur.

A health ministry official said the Pune institute was yet to send its findings on the Murshidabad samples.

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