West Bengal "fails to control" bird flu, 11 districts affected
By Prashant K. Nanda and Sujoy Dhar, IANS
New Delhi/Kolkata : India struggled to contain the spread of bird flu in West Bengal as authorities Friday confirmed the spread of the diseases in two more districts of Purulia and Howrah, not far from the state capital Kolkata.
"The High Security Animal Disease Laboratory of Bhopal has confirmed positive result for Avian Influenza (H5) in respect of samples from the Sankrail block of Howrah district and Santuri block of Purulia district," an agriculture ministry statement said in the capital.
The ministry further said that avian influenza strains have been found from the samples of Mayureswar -II and Khoyrasole blocks of Birbhum district, the epicentre of the current outbreak, in eastern India.
Kandi block of Murshidabad too have been found positive.
With this confirmation the diseases now has spread to over 11 districts - Birbhum, South Dinajpur, Murshidabad, Nadia, Burdwan, Bankura, Malda, Hooghly, Cooch Behar, Purulia and Howrah.
India confirmed an outbreak of bird flu on Jan 15 in two districts (Birbhum and south Dinajpur) of West Bengal.
No human infection has been reported so far. All nine human samples tested in Delhi and Kolkata have been found negative.
"I think the state government has messed up the situation by reporting the cases too late. It has failed to control the spread of the disease so far," said a top official of the central animal husbandry department of the agriculture ministry.
"Now bird flu has reached the doorstep of Kolkata. It would be a great setback for both central and the state government, if bird flu reaches the state capital," he said requesting anonymity.
The fresh confirmation has come a day after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressed concern over the bird flu situation in the state. He asked health ministry and information and broadcasting ministry to launch a campaign against avian influenza through radio and television.
Contrary to the concern expressed by Manmohan Singh, West Bengal Home Secretary Prasad Ranjan Roy said Thursday that the "outbreak is under control".
On Friday authorities in Kolkata said that they have met nearly half the culling target by killing over one million poultry birds in the past 10 days. West Bengal targets to kill 2.1 million birds.
"We have killed more than one million birds by now. We hope to finish the rest in the next five days," West Bengal Animal Resource Development Minister Anisur Rahman told IANS.
"There are an estimated 700 million poultry birds in West Bengal. Less than five percent of that is being culled," he said.
Rahman said the culling operation was almost complete in Burdwan, Bankura and South Dinajpur districts.
Central agriculture ministry said 901 Rapid Response Teams (RRTs) were deployed in West Bengal for culling and surveillance operations in bird flu affected areas.
With the culling and the flu severely affecting the rural economy, Rahman said a rehabilitation package was being worked out.
The state government has sanctioned Rs.50 million to battle the flu while the central government has disbursed Rs.35 million. West Bengal has sought Rs.80.25 million more from New Delhi.
Many villagers, however, are unhappy with the compensation.
With almost half of West Bengal gripped by the deadly bird flu, the state's poultry industry says it has lost over Rs.1 billion ($25 million) in the past weeks owing to the spread of the virus and sluggish culling operation.
Reports from Arambag in Hooghly district said close to half the farms have shut shop since the outbreak.
B.K. Farm, the biggest farm in the area, is under the scanner of the district administration. Day-old chicks are supplied all over the country from here.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has described the situation in West Bengal as "serious".
The H5N1 virus causes a type of influenza in birds that is highly contagious. It does not usually infect people unless they come in close contact with infected birds or contaminated surfaces.