February 05, 2008

Article at Reuters

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Indian state bans poultry trade to curb bird flu

KOLKATA, India (Reuters) - Authorities in eastern India banned the trade and consumption of poultry on Tuesday to stamp out a bird flu outbreak that officials said was now nearly under control.

Boys stand beside a truck carrying chickens on the outskirts of Jammu, India January 17, 2008. Authorities in eastern India banned the trade and consumption of poultry on Tuesday to stamp out a bird flu outbreak that officials said was now nearly under control. REUTERS/Amit Gupta

In other parts of South Asia, authorities battled to contain the virus. Pakistan tested 12 workers from a farm where the H5N1 virus was found in poultry, while Bangladesh’s capital was gripped by panic after dead crows were discovered.

The World Health Organization has said India’s outbreak was its most serious outbreak yet, but state authorities in West Bengal were optimistic the disease had peaked. There have been no reported human infections.

“We have decided to ban consumption and sale of poultry throughout the state until further notice,” Anisur Rahaman, West Bengal’s animal resources minister, told reporters.

Previously, poultry sales had been banned in the 13 of West Bengal’s 19 districts where the H5N1 virus had been detected, but now the ban was extended to the whole state as officials tried to ensure there would be no further outbreaks.

More than 3.4 million birds have been culled in West Bengal since the H5N1 virus was first reported last month, state officials said.

Egg exports from the world’s second largest producer have also dropped about 50 percent, leaving the industry with losses of around $20 million, trade officials said.

“This is a disaster. We do not know how we will recover,” Nazrul Islam of the West Bengal Poultry Welfare Association said.

But officials said the outbreak was now no longer in danger of spreading.

“Culling is almost over and we are now conducting mopping up operations in the infected areas,” Rahaman said.

Disinfecting villages affected by avian influenza could continue for several weeks, he said.

“But the overall situation is totally under control.”

In Pakistan, authorities confirmed on Monday an outbreak of the H5N1 strain of bird flu at a poultry farm on the outskirts of Karachi, the second case in four days in the country’s biggest city.

Twelve workers from the farm had been isolated and were being tested by a team from the World Health Organisation (WHO), a Health Ministry spokesman said.

The H5N1 virus was first detected in Pakistan in early 2006. Pakistan’s first human case, which resulted in a death, was confirmed in December.

India said tests of at least 23 people, including several veterinary staff, who were held in isolation wards with symptoms of influenza, had turned out negative for H5N1.

“But we are still keeping a close watch,” Sanchita Bakshi, the director of health services in West Bengal, said.

India has not reported any human infections of the H5N1 bird flu virus in its four outbreaks of avian influenza since 2006.

Experts fear the H5N1 strain could mutate into a form easily transmitted from person to person, leading to a pandemic that could kill millions worldwide.

Indonesia has suffered a surge in human cases this year, baffling officials. A 29-year-old woman died of bird flu at the weekend and another infected woman is in hospital.

The H5N1 virus is endemic in poultry in many parts of Indonesia where 103 people have died of bird flu. Since the beginning of the year, eight people have died and some experts say the flare-up is caused by a number factors, such as damp weather and poor sanitation during the rainy season.

Indonesia, like India, has millions of backyard fowl.

About 60 percent of India’s 1-billion-plus people live in rural areas close to livestock, just like in many other parts of Asia, raising the risks of the bird flu virus infecting people.

India said culling would also take place in states bordering West Bengal and a special watch was in place in districts bordering Bangladesh.

Authorities said the virus could have originated from Bangladesh, where officials were struggling to contain bird flu, which has spread to 37 of the country’s 64 districts.

“We are keeping a watch on our borders with Bangladesh and other states as the idea is to minimize the chances of bird flu spreading,” Rahaman said.

Many unwilling villagers resisted the authorities’ efforts, setting most of their backyard poultry free when culling teams arrived. There were reports that some chickens and ducks were smuggled out at night from infected districts.

A bird flu scare gripped the Bangladesh capital on Tuesday after 20 dead crows were found at several places, suspected killed by avian influenza.

City officials said the dead crows were found in the city of 11 million people, where prices of chicken, ducks and eggs have already dropped by an average 20 percent in recent weeks.

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