'Bird flu in W Bengal under control'
To underline their confidence, health officials urged residents of Kolkata, the crowded state capital, to eat chicken if they so fancied.Updated: Feb 01, 2008 11:30 IST
Authorities in West Bengal fighting a serious outbreak of bird flu said the situation was under control on Thursday, echoing the sentiments of the United Nations influenza coordinator.
To underline their confidence, health officials urged residents of Kolkata, the crowded state capital, to eat chicken if they so fancied.
"We have allowed a dozen farms to sell poultry products in the city after close examination -- their products are safe for eating," said Deb Dwaipayan Chattopadhyay, a senior health official. "Do not panic at all."
Anisur Rahaman, the state's animal resources minister, said the outbreak was under control, and that he was now getting fewer reports of suspicious bird deaths.
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; officials think tests will confirm the same strain in the other districts too.
The strain has already killed more than 200 people around the world since 2003, although no human infections have been reported in India.
The World Health Organization fears that the H5N1 strain could mutate into a form easily transmitted between humans and spark a deadly pandemic.
For now, humans can catch the disease only after exposure to infected birds or their excreta, and then only rarely.
Over 2.5 million birds have already been culled in the state in an attempt to stamp out the disease. Another 200,000 will be slaughtered in the next two days.
Culling has proved difficult in the densely populated state where millions of farmers, many of them illiterate, pin their livelihoods on their poultry.
Many have been reluctant to hand over their birds, fearing that they will not get enough compensation in return.
Nonetheless, David Nabarro, the U.N. influenza coordinator, said on Wednesday that India's outbreak was "coming under control".
While the outbreak appears to have stopped spreading in India, it shows no signs of slowing in neighbouring Bangladesh, which has been grappling with an outbreak since March.
The virus spread to another district in Bangladesh, officials said on Thursday, taking the number of infected districts to 30 out of 64.
(Additional reporting by Ruma Paul in Dhaka)