The Assam health department on Thursday expressed serious fears about strains of the deadly bird flu virus spreading to humans and sparking a pandemic in the northeastern state.
"We are really worried about the bird flu virus spreading to humans as the strains transmit rapidly. We don't know for sure if at all our health department would be able to cope if such a thing happens," Assam Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma told journalists.
"We want the people of Assam to cooperate with the veterinary department so that the culling operations are carried out properly. Otherwise, we might face a disaster," he said.
The bird flu virus has spread across six Assam districts and authorities have claimed it has assumed an epidemic proportion.
More than 250,000 poultry birds have been culled in the past two weeks in Assam.
"Bird flu has struck six of the 27 districts in Assam so far with an estimated 150,000 more poultry ordered to be killed," a senior veterinary official said.
The districts hit by bird flu are Kamrup (Metro), Kamrup (Rural), Dibrugarh, Nalbari, Barpeta, and Chirang.
The poultry targeted includes ducks and chickens. Authorities have imposed a ban on sale of poultry and poultry products in most parts of Assam after the bird flu outbreak.
Culling is being carried out in 200 villages in the six Assam districts. About 400 Rapid Response Teams, each comprising about seven personnel, including a veterinarian, are engaged in the culling drive, which is expected to continue for about a week to 10 days until the entire area is cleaned of the estimated 150,000 poultry left, the official said.
"It is a matter of worry with the virus now spreading to new areas and hence a maximum health alert was sounded with teams of doctors and paramedics taking precautionary measures so that humans are not affected," Parthajyoti Gogoi, central health ministry official, said.
The Indian health ministry confirmed outbreak of bird flu after laboratory tests found strains of the deadly H5N1 avian influenza.
Assam's veterinary and animal husbandry department has sounded an alert and is maintaining strict surveillance on farms in the state with veterinarians carrying out checks on all poultry. A central health ministry team is also assisting the local authorities in the culling operations.
The World Health Organisation fears that the H5N1 strain could mutate into a form easily transmitted between humans and spark a deadly pandemic.