In India the only laboratory equipped to handle the avian influenza H5N1 virus is receiving samples from across the country. Tiny vials of chicken blood and poultry tissue arrive each week, packed in ice boxes. These samples are sent by the farmers from places that experience unusual chicken deaths and from routine surveillance sites.
Veterinary pathologist Hare Krishna Pradhan, who heads the High Security Animal Disease Laboratory in Bhopal, is running out of space and time. He said that six out of the eight rooms in the laboratory are now engaged in H5N1 work and about a dozen scientists are working on it. In one room, research associate Nidhi Srivastava performs a test to detect the H5 and N1 genetic signatures of the virus. Scientists S. Nagarajan, B. Pattnaik, and C. Tosh perform molecular tests on another set of samples.
He said that they are expecting a molecular biologist from Bilaspur and a virologist from Hissar to join the team next week. Pradhan says the lab can handle a maximum of about 2,000 blood samples and 100 tissue and faecal samples a week. On the other hand it is been receiving 4,000 samples each week over the past month. Due to this he chooses the samples and allocates top priority for samples from sites with mortality.
But Shahid Jameel, head of virology at the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology in New Delhi said that there is a danger of delays in processing samples. Biosecurity labs can't be built in haste. It takes about 25 years to complete a biosecurity lab and costs about 22 crores.