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Bird flu in India puts Bangladesh on alert

Bangladesh orders border forces to block all imports of poultry and eggs from India, following bird flu outbreak.

world Updated: Jan 28, 2008 00:55 IST

Bangladesh authorities ordered border forces on Sunday to block all imports of poultry and eggs from India, where an outbreak of bird flu was spreading rapidly and destroying flocks, the government said.

Indian trucks, regardless of their cargo, will be sprayed with disinfectant to prevent the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus from entering Bangladesh, said Manik Lal Samaddar, who heads the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock.

Officials in India's West Bengal state, which shares a border with Bangladesh, have been struggling to contain an outbreak of H5N1, which has struck poultry in 13 of the state's 19 districts. Bangladesh last year barred poultry imports from more than 50 countries, including India, but some private importers and small traders have been ignoring the ban.

"As the bird flu outbreak in neighboring India is much more serious, the government has taken steps to combat the spread of the disease," Samaddar told reporters in the capital, Dhaka. Nevertheless, Samaddar said H5N1 infections were on the rise in Bangladesh. The virus has struck 93 farms since it was first detected in February 2007, up from 90 farms at the start of January this year, he said. Bird flu has been detected in four new districts this month, taking the number of Bangladeshi districts affected to 29, he said. Bangladesh has 64 districts.

The ministry was working with health officials to prevent transmission to people, he said. Medical teams were checking workers at the affected farms, but no H5N1 human infections have been detected in Bangladesh, Samaddar said.

The virus remains hard for people to catch, but experts worry it could mutate into a form that passes easily among people, igniting a flu pandemic. Most human cases have been traced to contact with infected birds. H5N1 has killed at least 221 people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.

Some 327,000 chickens have been slaughtered since February last year in efforts to contain the disease, said Samaddar, whom Bangladesh's interim government named to head the ministry until a permanent minister is appointed. Bangladesh's growing poultry industry comprises about 150,000 farms and has an annual turnover of about US$750 million (euro510 million).