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West Bengal admits falling behind

West Bengal Animal Resources Minister Anisur Rahaman says bird flu is spreading to new areas & the state lacks the infrastructure to battle the epidemic.

india Updated: Jan 23, 2008 22:34 IST

West Bengal admitted on Wednesday it was falling behind in its battle against bird flu as the virus spread to more than half the densely populated state.

Despite reinforcements from neighbouring states, at least 1,000 more vets and doctors were needed to help fight the poultry virus outbreak that began over a week ago, state animal resources minister Anisur Rahaman said.

"We don't have the infrastructure to battle this epidemic. Bird flu is spreading to new areas. Thousands of chickens are dropping dead every day," he told AFP.

Hundreds more culling teams had been sent to 10 districts where bird flu had been confirmed, but not all of them were accompanied by doctors, he said. West Bengal has 19 districts.

"We've asked neighbouring states to send at least 1,000 veterinary and human doctors," said Rahaman. "We've urged the federal government to send expert teams and doctors to assess the situation and help the culling teams."

The previous target of culling two million birds had been raised to 2.2 million "in the next seven days as the disease has spread to two more districts," he said. Nearly 400,000 birds have already been killed.

The new outbreak -- the third and worst to hit India -- began in Margram village, 240 kilometres (150 miles) from the state capital Kolkata.

India has so far not had any human cases of bird flu but Rahaman said he feared the disease would spread to humans with hundreds of people reporting flu symptoms in the state of 80 million.

"Naked children are playing with chickens in courtyards in affected villages. Chickens are roaming in the kitchen while women are cooking. It's a very worrisome situation," he said.

"Reports keep pouring in that many people in flu-affected districts are suffering fever, cold and cough," state health minister Surya Kanta Mishra added. Humans with bird flu exhibit similar symptoms.

People typically catch bird flu by coming into direct contact with infected poultry. Experts fear a pandemic if the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu mutates into a form easily transmissible between humans.

An AFP correspondent in the bird flu zone said proper isolation procedures were not being followed as villagers without protective gear milled about health workers carrying out the culling.

Culling teams were facing resistance from locals but villagers started handing over their poultry on Wednesday after the government began giving out immediate compensation for the dead birds. The outbreak was expected to hit poultry owners hard.

"Most of my chickens have been culled," said Jayanta Bhattacharya, a poultry owner whose farm had 30,000 chickens laying some 80,000 eggs each week. "I've already suffered a loss of Rs 400,000 ( $10,000 )."

Sri Lanka banned imports on Wednesday of live birds and chickens from India, a government official said.

Migratory birds have been largely blamed for the global spread of the disease which has killed over 200 people worldwide since 2003.

Meanwhile in neighbouring Bangladesh, nearly 2,000 chickens died of bird flu at a farm 20 kilometres (12 miles) near the capital Dhaka, prompting authorities to seal off the area and slaughter hundereds of birds.

All 1,963 birds in the farm found dead on Tuesday were killed by the lethal H5N1 strain, government spokeswoman Ayesha Khatun said.

Bangladesh reported its first H5N1 outbreak in February 2007. Since then it has been detected in 26 of the country's 64 districts, prompting the slaughter of at least 355,000 birds.

Authorities said the situation has worsened in the past week but insisted it was contained and erupting only sporadically.
"We don't think the situation is as bad as in West Bengal," livestock department director Salahuddin Khan said.

Experts differed, saying the situation was far worse than government claims and that farmers were refraining from reporting many cases.