Indian Battles Bird Flu Amidst UN Alarm Over Bangladesh

by Ann Samuel on  January 26, 2008 at 1:04 PM Bird Flu News
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Indian Battles Bird Flu Amidst UN  Alarm Over Bangladesh
Bodies of chickens were left to rot Thursday in India as the country battled its worst bird flu outbreak while a UN agency warned the virus also posed a health threat in neighbouring Bangladesh.

The disease has already spread to over half of India's West Bengal state whose government called the outbreak of the deadly H5N1 strain of avian flu a "crisis."

Drenching rain that turned rural dirt roads in West Bengal into muddy rivers forced a temporary halt to culling Thursday, dealing another setback to the fight against India's third and by far its worse bird flu outbreak.

Later when the rains stopped, the killing of birds resumed but villagers staged protests as culling teams refused to bury dead poultry.

"They're leaving the dead poultry on farms and along roads," said villager Munirul Sheikh in Ganganagar, 200 kilometres (120 miles) north of Kolkata.

"Dozens of dead chickens are rotting in farms," he said.

"We're not instructed to pick up the dead chickens. Villagers can bury them," said Kashinath Majumdar, a government official heading a culling team.

West Bengal animal resources minister Anisur Rahaman, who has already expressed fears the disease would spread to humans, called the failure to bury the dead chickens "a communication gap."

"I will ask the culling teams to bury the dead chickens," he said. People typically catch bird flu by coming into direct contact with infected poultry.

The confusion over how to deal with the dead chickens in the state of 80 million people came as the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation warned that Bangladesh needed "house-to-house surveillance" to combat bird flu there.

"The situation has worsened in the past week compared to the first few months of the outbreak" of the H5N1 virus that began last February, FAO's Bangladesh chief Ad Spijkers told AFP.

"It's posing a danger to public health," Spijkers said in Dhaka, capital of impoverished Bangladesh where Indian officials believe India's H5N1 avian flu outbreak originated.

Aid "donors are going to meet with the government very soon to discuss comprehensive measures to fight the disease. It's posing a danger to public health," he said.

Spijkers' statement came amid a rise in reports of the disease in Bangladesh's southern, central and northern districts and border forces were put on high alert to stop poultry entering from West Bengal.

Bangladesh authorities insist the disease remains contained in the impoverished nation of 144 million people but experts differ, saying the situation is far worse and that farmers are holding back from reporting cases.

Meanwhile in India's West Bengal, doctors and veterinarians from neighbouring states were arriving in Kolkata to join the culling teams.

"Altogether 934 culling teams are involved in slaughtering poultry," said minister Rahaman, adding teams had killed nearly 700,000 out of 2.2 million chickens slated to be culled.

"The remaining will be culled in the next three to four days," he said.

Experts fear a pandemic if the H5N1 strain mutates into a form easily transmissible between humans.

Neither Bangladesh nor India has so far had any human cases of bird flu. But Rahaman said he feared the disease would spread to humans with hundreds of people reporting flu symptoms and children "playing with chickens."

However, shops and market stalls that previously were selling chicken were now selling vegetables in affected areas, witnesses reported.

Culling teams initially faced resistance from locals but villagers started handing over their poultry after the government began giving out immediate compensation for the dead birds.

But farmers in the poverty-stricken state still feared financial hardship.

"We've never heard of bird flu, but it's destroyed the village's economy, said poultry farmer Safirul Islam.

Meanwhile in Indonesia, a 30-year-old man has died of bird flu, the government said Thursday, bringing the toll to 98 in the nation worst hit by the H5N1 virus.

Source: AFP

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