Flu surges to Nadia, Burdwan

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  • Published 19.01.08

Jan. 19: Nadia and Burdwan were officially declared bird flu-hit today indicating a never-before rate of spread in the country, with experts saying Bengal may now need to hire cull teams from outside.

The Bhopal laboratory said chicken samples from Nadia’s Tehatta block and Burdwan’s Purbasthali II and Mangalkot had tested positive.

Birbhum, South Dinajpur and Murshidabad had earlier been declared bird flu-hit.

The near-concurrent outbreak in five districts supports experts’ claim that the Bengal flare-up is the most serious and potentially fastest-spreading avian influenza epidemic India has seen.

When the H5N1 virus surfaced in Maharashtra in February 2006, only two districts were affected. In Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Manipur, it was confined to single districts before being stamped out.

Bengal animal resource development (ARD) minister Anisur Rahman today promised that the number of culling teams would be increased fivefold from tomorrow, from the current 60 to 300. He did not explain where the personnel would come from.

Central officials in Delhi, sceptical of Bengal’s promises and impatient with its tardy culling, spoke of “outsourcing” the operation.

“We may have to outsource people (from other states). The task… needs some skill, but mainly leadership, training and motivation,” a central bureaucrat said.

With the rapid spread, the overall culling target rose to 5 lakh today — up by one lakh from tomorrow. But the day’s culling figure was 35,000, a little more than yesterday’s but 10,000 short of the target.

“Getting people from other states would certainly help,” an expert told The Telegraph. “Four of our states have done this, and they have vets with experience.”

Experts say Bengal’s high density of poultry and water bodies provide favourable conditions for the virus to jump from poultry to wild waterbirds and back to poultry.

“Such a cycle could lead to repeated outbreaks,” said Albert Osterhaus, senior virologist and an authority on H5N1 at the Erasmus Medical Centre, the Netherlands.

The government is trying to determine if H5N1 has infected birds other than poultry, including wild birds such as crows or pigeons. Fifty-two samples of poultry, duck, crows and pigeons from Murshidabad, Purulia, Birbhum, and West Midnapore will be tested at Bhopal. A team is collecting stool, blood and saliva samples of migratory birds at Birbhum’s water bodies.

Barrackpore scare

The bird flu panic reached Calcutta’s outskirts today when 15 hens died in Nilgunge at Barrackpore, North 24-Parganas. Samples have been sent for tests. Bolpur and Burdwan towns, too, reported their first chicken deaths.

Samples from South 24-Parganas, Cooch Behar, Purulia and Hooghly have tested negative so far.

Culling, being done mostly in Birbhum, began in Murshidabad and Nadia today. Burdwan gets on the list tomorrow. Officials believe the job is almost complete in South Dinajpur.