Even as the threat of swine flu continues, a fresh outbreak of the highly pathogenic avian influenza (bird flu) has been reported from West Bengal.
About 20 backyard poultry birds were reported to have died on May 20 in the rural areas of Uttar Dinajpur in West Bengal, not far from the Assam and Bangladesh border.
These birds were confirmed on May 25 to have died of the most virulent H5N1 strain of bird flu. All the samples tested by the High Security Animal Disease Laboratory, Bhopal, and the National Institute of Virology, Pune, had tested positive for this virus.
The animal husbandry department formally notified the outbreak of bird flu in the area to the World Organisation of Animal Health on May 28. It also told OIE that measures -- curbs on the movement of poultry products, screening and culling of domestic poultry in a 3 km radius around the outbreak spots -- have already been taken.
No vaccination or treatment of the affected birds has been resorted to, as part of the government's strategy to tackle bird flu. The places of infection would be suitably disinfected.
The latest eruption of bird flu has occurred around six months after the last outbreak of this disease in Hajo, Rajabazar and Kamrup areas of Assam. About 325 birds had died of H5N1 infection at the time. Besides, over 52,000 birds in a 3 km area around these spots were culled.
The H5N1 strain of avian influenza was first isolated in 1996, in farmed geese in Guangdong province of China and subsequently spread to several countries, causing heavy poultry mortality and over 240 human deaths. India had remained free of this malady till 2006.
The first outbreak of bird flu in India had occurred in Navapur and Uchchal around the Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh border in February 2006. Since then, there have been several outbreaks in different parts of the country, causing huge economic losses, reckoned to be in excess of Rs 10,000 crore, to the poultry industry. The organised poultry industry is currently believed to be worth over Rs 30,000 crores.
Following successful containment of the disease in the epicentres of infection between 2006 and 2008, India had formally declared itself bird flu-free country on November 4, 2008. But this status did not last long. Barely 3 weeks later, the disease resurfaced in the Kamrup (rural) district of Assam.