A viral spiral | india | Hindustan Times
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A viral spiral

The best way to dispel the opaqueness is to educate the people about bird flu, while augmenting current levels of preparedness to respond to it in a timely manner.

india Updated: Feb 14, 2008 21:15 IST

It is unfortunate that there is so much confusion about the bird flu epidemic in West Bengal. The state government had hardly lifted the ban on sale and consumption of eggs and meat of chickens, ducks and quail last Tuesday when new reports of the virus killing more birds started coming in. The ban was in place for a week to ensure prevention of the spread of the lethal H5N1 virus in humans after tens of thousands of poultry birds died. And now news just in suggests that the virus may have reared its head again, affecting hundreds of chickens in Falakata village. Not surprisingly, this has triggered fears that the government could have sounded the all clear too soon.

This reflects the confusion reigning among the public and policy-makers alike about the scourge. The poultry industry’s concerns are understandable, considering that India produces around 1.5 billion chickens and over 44 billion eggs a year. Which makes it as much a question of livelihood for those in the industry as it is a matter of safety for the consumer. The best way to dispel the opaqueness is to educate the people about bird flu, while augmenting current levels of preparedness to respond to it in a timely manner. If the germ mutates into a form that can spread from person to person, it could cause a deadly pandemic of appalling proportions. Methods like culling, after all, are only a first line of defence, and they are futile in the absence of a sensitive surveillance system capable of detecting the emerging strains of a pandemic virus.

This newspaper has always argued for having proper infrastructure on the ground — like better healthcare facilities and a district-wise surveillance system — to deal with such emergencies. Health authorities could also establish a system of different levels of disease alert — ranging from, say, red (very serious) through orange (serious) and yellow (caution) to blue (normal) — to let people know what to expect. This would have cleared a lot of the confusion that we now see in West Bengal.