Bird Flu Spreads in West Bengal

Bird FluEven as laboratory tests have confirmed that the bird flu has spread to new blocks in Birbhum, Murshidabad and the Hooghly districts of West Bengal, the State Animal Husbandry Department officials said on Thursday, that more than 80 per cent of culling was completed.

A report from the High Security Animal Disease Laboratory (HSADL) in Bhopal on Wednesday have confirmed that samples taken from Suri I in Birbhum, Raghunathganj II in Murshidabad and Chanditala II in Hooghly have tested positive for avian influenza.

Hooghly District Magistrate, Vinod Kumar, confirmed to the outbreak at Hutpur village of the district, which is barely 20 kms from Kolkata. The eastern metropolis is now hemmed by areas affected by the bird flu.

The HSADL is yet to confirm the report of the bird flu spreading to Baduria in Kolkata’s adjoining North 24 Parganas district, but the State government has already said that the deadly H5N1 strain has been found in samples taken from there.

Officials said that the number of birds culled in the 13 affected districts of West Bengal have crossed 2.3 million and another 500,000 poultry would have to be culled.

However, no human infection has been detected so far in the state.

Officials said that among the 1.6 million people surveyed, teams of healthcare personnel have detected 3,700 people with signs of upper respiratory infection such as cold, cough and fever. Only 28 have had a history of exposure to poultry.

However, none of these people have had symptoms of avian influenza like lung infection, breathlessness or lung patches visible on the X-ray.

Reports of untoward incidents poured in from various parts of the state.

Villagers of Bajitpur, Parchandrahat and Chattaparulia in Birbhum’s Mayureswar-I block, which is affected by the bird flu, reportedly exhumed culled poultry birds on Monday and went to the local panchayat office with the birds, demanding interim relief of Rs 500 for each family, as announced by the state government.

Reports said that the villagers had brought the culled birds along with them to prove that they were among the affected families. The culled birds were again buried in the trenches at the intervention of the police, who issued a stern warning on Wednesday forbidding anyone to exhume dead birds. This would lead to an arrest, they stated.

The bird flu was confirmed in West Bengal on January 15. The affected districts are South 24 Parganas, Howrah, Hooghly, Birbhum, South Dinajpur, Murshidabad, Nadia, Burdwan, Bankura, Malda, Cooch Behar, Purulia and West Midnapore.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has described the bird flu outbreak in West Bengal as “serious”.

Authorities fighting the severe outbreak said that the situation was under control on Thursday, echoing the sentiments of the United Nations influenza coordinator.

Anisur Rahaman, the State’s Animal Resources Minister, said that the outbreak was under control, and that he was now getting fewer reports of suspicious bird deaths.

To underline their confidence, health officials have urged residents of Kolkata, the crowded capital of West Bengal, to eat chicken if they so fancied.

In the neighbouring Bangladesh, which shares a long border with West Bengal, the bird flu has affected 29 out of 64 districts in the country. Bangladesh authorities declared the outbreak on January 3rd.

Raghav Agarwal