While India declared that the worst was perhaps over in bird flu hit West Bengal, a northern district of the state reported an outbreak of another animal disease - anthrax.
As the state government completed its culling operation on Monday by slaughtering 3.38 million poultry birds to combat the raging bird flu virus, officials said the cows that recently died in Bhojanerchhara village of Cooch Behar district, about 800 km from Kolkata, were infected with anthrax.
"The six cows which died in the area died of anthrax. We are taking all precautionary measures," West Bengal Animal Resource Development Minister Anisur Rahman told IANS on Tuesday.
"A few anthrax cases are detected every year. The carcasses have to be buried and the meat of the animal should be avoided," he said.
Cooch Behar district magistrate Rajesh Kumar Sinha said a family at Bhojanerchhara village had lost the cows on Friday.
"We sent the samples to the local animal resource department laboratory for tests. The results have turned out to be positive for anthrax," he said.
Another family in the same village has lost one cow to the disease.
At Jotpatki village in Mathabhanga, samples from seven cows that died between Jan 31 and Feb 1 have been sent for tests as well, reports said.
"We have decided to vaccinate cattle in the area from Tuesday," Sinha said.
Anthrax is an acute disease in humans and animals that is caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis and is highly lethal in some forms.
Anthrax is one of only a few bacteria that can form long-lived spores. When the bacteria's lifecycle is threatened by factors such as lack of food caused by their host dying or by a change of temperature, the bacteria turn themselves into more or less dormant spores to wait for another host to continue their lifecycle.
The dead cows had developed fever and died after bleeding from the mouth.
Officials said the local laboratory was equipped to detect anthrax.
"The dead animals have been buried more than eight feet underground," a district official said.
Anthrax cannot spread directly from one person to another, but anthrax spores can be transported by human clothing and shoes. If a person dies of anthrax, the body can be a very dangerous source of anthrax spores. The spores have been used as a biological warfare weapon.
A local report said there was no outbreak in Cooch Behar in five years and the practice of vaccinating cattle had stopped.
A report said two men from Domkol in Murshidabad district of West Bengal had died of anthrax at the Infectious Diseases Hospital in Kolkata last June while over 30 were infected.
The outbreak comes within days of the completion of poultry culling in the two blocks of Dinhata I and Mathabhanga I in Cooch Behar.
Minister Anisur Rahman said the culling operation has ended in West Bengal and there was no official confirmation yet of H5N1 strain in fresh poultry deaths in Howrah, adjoining Kolkata.
According to reports, more than 300 chickens died in a municipal area of Howrah across Kolkata Monday.
Union Animal Husbandry Secretary Pradeep Kumar had said on Monday: "Perhaps the worst is over. We are saying this on the basis that no new case has been reported from Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Tamil Nadu, Bihar and Tripura till Monday."