Assam has began culling an estimated 85,000 poultry following a directive by the central health ministry after the outbreak of bird flu in adjoining West Bengal last month, officials on Sunday said.
"The process of culling has already started involving about 40 Rapid Response Teams with five members in each group led by a veterinarian," Parthajyoti Gogoi, regional director (northeast) of the central health ministry based in Guwahati, told IANS.
The culling is being carried out in about 40 villages within a five-kilometre radius of Assam's border with West Bengal since Saturday evening. The poultry targeted in the two bordering districts of Assam's Kokrajhar and Dhubri includes ducks and chickens.
"The entire culling process is to be completed in about seven to ten days as our teams are visiting each and every household in the area. We estimate there could be some 85,000 poultry in the area where culling is currently underway," Gogoi said.
"All the veterinary personnel involved in the culling process were being administered the antiviral drug Tamiflu as a precautionary measure."
The Indian health ministry on Friday sounded an alert in the northeastern state of Assam by asking authorities to cull birds in villages bordering the avian flu hit eastern state of West Bengal as a precautionary measure.
"There are no reported cases of bird flu in Assam and the entire exercise is being done as a precautionary measure. We need to be alert and careful so that the virus does not spread to Assam," Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi told IANS.
Assam's veterinary and animal husbandry department has sounded an alert and maintaining strict surveillance on farms in the state with veterinarians carrying out checks on all poultry.
"We are conducting blood tests and screening on a daily basis across the state and so far the state is safe with not a single bird testing positive," a senior veterinary official said.
Bird flu has spread to 13 of West Bengal's 19 districts since the outbreak was confirmed more than two weeks ago.
Laboratory results have confirmed that the deadly H5N1 strain is responsible for the outbreak in at least two of the districts.
The World Health Organization fears that the H5N1 strain could mutate into a form easily transmitted between humans and spark a deadly pandemic. Last year, an outbreak of avian influenza in the northeastern state of Manipur led to the culling of some 200,000 birds.
Meanwhile, poultry business has already been hit in Assam after the outbreak of bird flu in the adjoining West Bengal state.
Assam and other northeastern states have already banned the import of poultry from West Bengal.