The government on Wednesday put poultry farms, wholesale markets and avian hot spots under watch after the death of 10 migratory birds at the capital’s zoo sparked fears of what could be the first bird flu outbreak in Delhi.
The Delhi zoo has been closed for three days as a precautionary measure, Delhi development minister Gopal Rai said.
There was a possibility of the virus infecting humans if they consume or handle contaminated chicken, he said.
Though there are no known cases of human deaths from avian influenza in India, lakhs of poultry and other birds have been culled across several states over the years to contain the highly-contagious disease.
Worldwide, 60% of the humans infected by the H5N1 virus die, according to available data.
The World Health Organisation says the virus can cause fever, cough, sore throat, pneumonia, respiratory disease and, in severe cases, death in humans.
Experts said Delhi’s large pigeon population could potentially turn to carriers and spread the virus across the capital, a packed city-state with an estimated 1.86 crore people.
“We have decided to check entire Delhi. We have asked the department to check possible places where birds are likely to come. We have sent a team to the Okhla sanctuary and Nizamuddin, where birds are sold, Yamuna Diversity Park in Wazirpur, Najafgarh drain and Ghazipur apart from deploying a 10-member team at the zoo,” said Rai.
UNDERSTANDING H5N1 SPREADH5N1, or avian (bird) flu virus, infects and kills wild birds and domestic poultry
- This is the first time it has been detected in migratory birds in Delhi
- The last outbreak was in 2015 in Kerala
- H5N1 does not usually infect people. Most human infection is from close contact with sick or dead infected poultry
- There have been around 650 reported human infections globally since 2013, and 60% of them ended in fatalities
- Fever, cough, breathing difficulty, abdominal pain, diarrhoea
- Can lead to pneumonia, respiratory failure, shock, seizures, multiple organ failure and death.
The Ghazipur wholesale market is the source of poultry meant for consumption in Delhi. Officials said samples from the market have been sent to a lab in Jalandhar and a decision on shutting down poultry farms or the wholesale market will be taken after the report is received.
The animal husbandry department procured 200 personal protective equipment (PPE) kits, which will be used by personnel who enter the zoo and other infected places.
Zoo officials said the bird deaths were reported October 14 and 15 after which samples were sent to the Jalandhar lab, which detected symptoms of some virus. Re-tests at the High Security Animal Diseases Laboratory in Bhopal confirmed H5N1 virus in at least two birds.
On Monday, another one died while another carcass was found on Wednesday. These two have also been sent for tests.
“We are taking steps to prevent the spread of the virus. On Thursday, we will hold a meeting with officials of health, revenue and other departments concerned,” said Rai, who visited the zoo on Wednesday.
“If the virus spreads and its symptoms are spotted, we will put in place some restrictions,” he added.
On Friday, Delhi government officials will meet a team of officials from Maharashtra which had contained the virus after a severe outbreak this year.
The bird flu threat comes amid a record-breaking chikungunya outbreak and an equally widespread dengue flare-up that have stretched Delhi’s healthcare system.