After almost 11 months, avian influenza has flown back to India. Its presence was confirmed in a small poultry unit in Manipur’s East Imphal district, where some 132 chickens suddenly died within six days from July 7.
But there is no need to panic just yet. “It is safe to consume well-cooked poultry and eggs. Chances of humans getting infected are very low. Humans get infected only if they come into contact with an animal carrying the virus,” said Dr Shiv Lal, director, National Institute of Communicable Diseases.
Seven of the eight samples tested at the Imphal farm were confirmed as Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPA).
"Surveillance of poultry, ducks and feed in a 10-km radius of the farm shows the outbreak is very localised. As a precaution, about 1.5 lakh birds will be culled in a 5-km radius to ensure the disease is contained," said Charusheela Sohoni, secretary, Department of Animal Husbandry, Ministry of Agriculture.
Containment measures have begun. Border troops have been asked to stop people from bringing in poultry from Bangladesh, China and Myanmar. "We have decided to start culling from early Thursday," Th. Dorendra, director of Manipur’s animal husbandry department, said. “We have also formed a Rapid Response Team while New Delhi is sending a consignment of Tamiflu to prevent any human casualty.” Sudden death among poultry and fever symptoms among humans in a 10-km radius are also being monitored.
While the Manipur government insists there is “no cause for concern yet”, other states in the region are not taking any chances. “We are monitoring the situation,” said Assam Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma.
Incidentally, seven northeastern states including Manipur had in April banned the import of chicken and livestock from Myanmar following the outbreak of bird flu in that country. A similar ban was imposed on fowl imports from Bangladesh.
Bird flu in domestic and wild birds has been reported in 70 countries since it was first identified in Hong Kong in 1997. It has been confirmed in birds in neighbouring China, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. China has confirmed three human cases and two deaths in 2007.
India’s last major bird flu outbreak was last year, when the H5N1 virus subtype was found in poultry birds in Maharashtra. It was declared bird flu-free in August.
(With inputs from Rahul Karmakar)