File photo: Workers spray to sanitize the area in front of bird enclosure.(Vipin Kumar/HT PHOTO)
File photo: Workers spray to sanitize the area in front of bird enclosure.(Vipin Kumar/HT PHOTO)

Nearly 25,000 birds die of 2 strains of bird flu, states on alert

Forest department officials said the source of bird flu was migratory birds which probably came from Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries and have spread to native species.
By Sachin Saini, Shruti Tomar, Naresh Thakur, Ramesh Babu | Edited by Sparshita Saxena | Hindustan Times, Jaipur/Bhopal/Shimla/Thiruvananthapuram
UPDATED ON JAN 05, 2021 09:03 PM IST

Close to 25,000 birds have died due to different variants of bird flu in states like Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh even as the Centre has issued alert to the states to monitor the health of birds in forest areas and near water bodies, officials from multiple states said.

Forest department officials said the source of bird flu was migratory birds which probably came from Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries and have spread to native species. In Kerala, about 20,000 ducks have died in past one week whereas in Himachal close to 3,400 migratory birds died in the past fortnight. In Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, there have been reports of crow deaths in several districts.

In Rajasthan’s Kota and Baran districts and in Madhya Pradesh’s Indore and Malwa regions, the crow deaths was because of Avian Influenza subtype H5N8, which according to experts is less infectious. Till Tuesday, 625 crow deaths were reported from 16 of 33 districts in Rajasthan.

“The virus has not affected chickens or eggs but all precautions are taken, looking at the way it spreads among crows. But the positive news is there that samples from Jodhpur have tested negative. Those from Jhalawar, Kota and Baran have tested positive,” said Rajasthan animal husbandry minister Lal Chand Kataria. The minister said the area where the flu is found will be sanitised as done during Covid-19.

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As a precautionary measure, prohibitory orders under section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) have been invoked within a kilometre of the infected area in Jhalawar and Pali districts. The government is also considering sealing Madhya Pradesh border for poultry transportation,” he said.

Rajasthan animal husbandry department secretary Arushi Malik said avian influenza subtype H5N8 is not dangerous for people but precautions need to be taken as the disease can spread among birds.

Microbiologist, Dr AK Kataria said the virus strain H5N8 is not fatal for humans, and only H5N1 is known, which leads to pneumonia. The strains, which are considered to be highly pathogenic, are N1, N2, N5, N6 and N9. “The situation can be dealt opting required precautions such as burying dead birds three feet down and away from water sources,” he said.

Like Rajasthan, in Madhya Pradesh, the bird flu virus H5N8 has spread to 10 districts and about 500 crows have died since December 23. “There is no sign of other birds including poultry having been infected by any virus,” said director of animal husbandry department Dr RK Rokde.

He added that bird flu found in poultry is H1N5. “We collected samples from poultry farms in the affected districts and we didn’t find any traces of bird flu. It is relief for us that the infection is limited to crows only,” said principal secretary, animal Husbandry JN Kansotia.

The districts where crows were found dead include Indore, Mandsaur, Agar-Malwa, Khargone, Neemuch, Dewas, Ujjain, Shajapur, all in Malwa region; Sehore in central region and Guna in Gwalior-Chambal region of the state, according to officials. MP Integrated disease surveillance programme additional director Dr Shailesh Sakalle said a household survey is being done in the affected areas.

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In Himachal Pradesh, the H5N1 strain has caused death of 3,400 migratory birds at Pong Dam in a week. The officials said that there have been no reports of the virus infecting humans in the vicinity of Pong Dam.

Kangra district administration on Tuesday imposed strict restrictions in four sub-divisions adjoining the wetland. Kangra deputy commissioner Rakesh Kumar Prajapati said that in the interest of protecting the health and safety of the public at large, sale, purchase and export of poultry, birds, and fish is prohibited in Fatehpur, Dehra, Jawali and Indora subdivisions.

“The slaughter of poultry, birds and fish across all slaughterhouses or at home is barred in these four subdivisions,” Prajapati said.

The practice of offering feed to birds and fish is also prohibited. “No movement of humans shall be allowed within a kilometre of Pong Dam or the alert zone except those related to managing the outbreak,” he said. He added that all agriculture or horticulture-related activities are prohibited and staff of the two departments would be deployed to check such activities.

In Kerala, where 20,000 ducks died in Alapuzha and Kottayam districts in the past week, culling of ducks has started. Animal husbandry department additional secretary Dr Hari Kumar said 38,000 birds will be culled in Alapuzha and 8,000 in Kottayam. Poultry farmers will not be allowed to trade birds till further notice. He said culling and burying of birds will take at least three days.

“I have turned pauper. I have lost around 20,000 birds in last one week. I bought 10,000 ducklings only two weeks back. I took banks loans and money from some lenders to fund my duck farming. Compensation from the government is minimal,” said K Kuttappayi, a farmer in Alapuzha. Surrounded by many water bodies in Alapuzha and surrounding area, duck farming is very popular and duck eggs sell for almost double the price of a chicken egg. Duck meat is also a delicacy in many areas of the state.

States such as Uttarakhand, Bihar, Haryana, Jharkhand Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra have issued advisories and have asked forest department officials to monitor the health of birds in and around water bodies. JS Suhag, chief wildlife warden of Uttarakhand, said, “Following the guidelines from the Central government, we have issued an alert and advisory for all divisional forest officers to keep an eye on any unusual avian activity. No cases of bird flu or deaths have been reported from the state so far, but as many migratory birds fly to the state, officials are on alert.”

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