Govt amps up action as bird flu cases confirmed in Delhi
Delhi on Monday became one of the 10 states in the country with confirmed cases of avian influenza, or bird flu, even as authorities announced a ban on the sale of processed and packaged poultry brought from outside the city as a precautionary measure aimed at stopping the spread of the disease.
At least 10 samples from three locations of the over 120 samples sent to Bhopal’s National Institute of High Security Animal Diseases (NIHSAD) of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research have returned positive, government officials said, launching a drive to either cull or isolate birds in east Delhi’s Sanjay Lake Park that has already been shut.
Carcasses of 17 ducks were found on Sunday, triggering a scare and prompting authorities to declare it an “alert zone”. Officials said the culling of live birds at Sanjay Lake Park began at 8am on Monday. They said large-scale culling might not be required in Delhi immediately.
In an online press briefing in the afternoon, deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia said the Delhi government was making all efforts to check the spread of bird flu and that chief minister Arvind Kejriwal was monitoring the situation.
“...there is a ban on selling packaged chicken or processed chicken from outside in Delhi to prevent infection from one state to another,” he said, asking people not to panic. “Those who consume chicken and eggs...if you cook your chicken and boil eggs properly, there is no risk..,” Sisodia added.
A senior government official, who did not want to be named, explained that date and place of packaging will be considered before imposing the ban.
“For example, if a company sources its poultry from Haryana, which has reported cases of bird flu, authorities will check manufacturing dates on packages in the storage unit of the company in Delhi, or at its retail outlets. If the manufacturing date is after the outbreak in Haryana, it will have to be trashed immediately. If it is pre-outbreak, then it will be approved for sale. Similarly, if a company has already brought its stock from a state which is not yet affected, sale of those packages will be allowed,” the official said.
“We will also issue advisories to people asking them to check the manufacturing dates of packaged chicken and eggs. People are advised to check from which states the product is coming before purchasing and the manufacturing date of the same. However, bringing fresh stock into the city will not be allowed as of now,” he added.
Later in the evening, state animal husbandry unit issued an order, saying the “entry and sale of dressed/processed/canned poultry products is also required to be restricted as a measure of abundant precaution in view of public health and safety”.
On Saturday, Delhi announced the closure of the Ghazipur wholesale poultry market for 10 days and banned the entry of live birds from outside Delhi. Over the past four days, about 150 birds have been found dead across the city.
Though Sisodia said in his briefing samples of ducks from Sanjay Lake area were the only ones in Delhi that tested “positive so far”, officials clarified later that 10 samples from three locations in the city were found with bird flu virus.
In the morning, officials said three of the positive samples were from Sanjay Lake Park in Mayur Vihar Phase 2, four from Mayur Vihar Phase 3, and one from Dwarka Sector 9.
By evening, two more samples — from a district park in Dwarka Sector 9 — tested positive, prompting authorities to immediately shut the facility for public.
Apart from the Sanjay Lake Park and the one in Dwarka Sector 9, the Delhi Development Authority (DDA), which maintains most of the big parks in the city, has shut down at least two parks — in Hauz Khaz and Hastsal — until further orders. Agencies such as DDA, the New Delhi Municipal Council and the three civic bodies issued separate advisories on Monday, asking people not to go near water bodies in parks and monuments.
“Doctors of all 48 veterinary hospitals of the Animal Husbandry Unit are continuously monitoring bird flu across Delhi. Also, 11 rapid response teams have been set up which are continuously collecting samples,” a Delhi government statement said.
Delhi lieutenant governor Anil Baijal, too, reviewed the situation in the Capital.
On Twitter, he said officials have been advised to enhance surveillance and undertake requisite measures for control and containment. “Citizens are advised to maintain caution and reach out to help line # 011-23890318, in case of need of any assistance,” he tweeted.
As of Monday, nine other Indian states have reported the outbreak: Kerala, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and Maharashtra. No case among the human population has been reported.
“We have seen a slight reduction in the sale of raw chicken. This has been compensated by the increase in sales of fish and seafood, mutton and pork products,” Siddhant Wangdi, chief executive officer at meatigo.com (an online marketplace selling seafood and meat products), said.
“We source our poultry products from certified and licensed supply partners who have their own network farms. There has not been any report of the outbreak of avian influenza or any other disease from any of our supply partners in the past 30 days....Further, when we receive the birds, each of them undergoes a safety and quality check and is vacuum packed to curb any kind of contamination,” he said.
The current outbreak — migratory birds are believed to be behind it — began in December-end, barely a few months after India declared the country free from the disease on September 30, 2020.
While the risk to humans from the disease is considered low, past outbreaks among farm birds have needed extensive slaughtering programmes to contain the outbreak.
Only those coming in close contact with infected (alive or dead) birds for a long time can contract the H5N1 (strain of) bird flu virus, which does not usually spread from person to person, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Most other strains of bird flu cannot be transmitted to humans. Experts say well-cooked chicken or poultry products such as eggs (heated over 70 degrees Celsius) kill the virus and are, therefore, safe to consume.
“The receptor used by the virus that causes the bird flu is very different from the receptors needed for human flu. So it is very unlikely for the infection to pass on to humans unless there is some recombination or mutation that allows the virus to enter human cells. Second, it does not pass from humans to humans. It is not a respiratory infection like Covid-19 and can happen to humans only if they are handling the dead infected birds or poultry that has been infected,” said Dr Shobha Broor, former head of the department of microbiology at Delhi’s All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS).
“However, once a person is infected, the disease tends to be severe. The bird flu virus usually attaches with the lower respiratory tract and causes pneumonia,” she said.