31 August 2011
KOLKATA/NEW DELHI, 31 AUG: The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) says that Indo-Gangetic plain and West Bengal are to be considered at the highest risk of H5N1 and Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI).
This comes after FAO has warned India of a possible resurgence of H5N1 (better known as birdflu) and the recent outbreaks of the disease in many other countries in Asia. “All chickens have to be considered susceptible. However, the poultry being raised in Indo-Gangetic plain is at higher risk as the disease is entrenched in this region. The areas with previous history of HPAI outbreaks and areas where animal movements and trading have taken place, including West Bengal, would be considered at high risk,” says Dr Wantanee Kalpravidh, FAO Regional Coordinator for Asia and the Pacific.
India notified the last outbreak of avian influenza (H5N1) in Tripura in February 2011 and nothing thereafter. In early 2008, the disease had spread to more than half of West Bengal after the H5N1 strain was first confirmed in dead chickens. At least 2.2 million birds were slaughtered to control the outbreak. The government of India has just declared itself free from Notifiable Avian Influenza since July 2011.
Dr Kalpravidh said that so far the government has not adopted the vaccination policy and the strategy being used is early detection and rapid response to any disease outbreak. Procedures for outbreak containment would be culling of diseased and exposed flocks. Improvement of biosecurity at poultry farms and market has been included in the national strategy, he added. “The government of India is giving its best attention to improve biosecurity system of poultry farms and strengthen their systems to early detect and respond to any outbreak that might occur,” he said.
FAO chief veterinary officer Mr Juan Lubroth said in a report that the government of six Asian countries, including India, should focus on preparedness and surveillance to tackle the possible outbreak. There were signs that a mutant strain of the deadly virus, with unpredictable risks to human health, is spreading in Asia and beyond. Apart from India, FAO has rung the alarm bell for Bangladesh, China, Egypt, Indonesia and Vietnam.
The H5N1 virus has infected 565 people since it first appeared in 2003, killing 331 of them, according to WHO figures. The outbreaks have risen progressively since then, with almost 800 cases recorded in 2010-11, FAO said. The latest death occurred in Cambodia earlier in the month, killing two children. Cambodia has had 16 deaths from 18 confirmed cases of bird flu since 2005. They include seven children, according to Cambodian Health Ministry official.
Mr Madan Mohan Maity, general secretary, West Bengal Poultry Federation, said that so far there is no case of H5N1 or even bird death in Bengal or any part of India. “We hope there will be no panic over bird flu because our poultry sector is highly mechanised. The government is prepared for the disease,” he said. And in New Delhi, the government said it is fully prepared to deal with any eventuality arising out of the outbreak of avian influenza. “A few reports have come out in the press mentioning an FAO alert against a new and deadly mutant strain of avian influenza, popularly known as Birdflu. The government has taken note of the FAO’s alert and is prepared for any eventuality,” an official statement said.