Bird flu hits India again

Officials in India say seven new cases of bird flu have been reported in the western state of Maharashtra, the site of two earlier outbreaks this year and one in neighbouring Madhya Pradesh state.

Results from the High Security Animal Disease Laboratory (HSADL) in Bhopal have confirmed H5N1 in two samples from a town in the Burhanpur region of Madhya Pradesh, on the border with Maharastra and in seven samples from Maharashtra.

HSADL Deputy Director Dr H K Pradhan says a further 114 samples were being tested from 23 villages around Icchapur.

The virus is suspected to be the H5N1 strain.

The government says a medical team of three senior doctors from Delhi will be sent to the area as a precaution and an alert has been declared.

Poultry movement has been banned and containment teams have been sent in to the region affected along with 200 veterinary personnel.

Unlike Navapur, where the flu first appeared, the Burhanpur region has few organised poultry farms and the poultry population is low across the entire district.

Less than 7,000 poultry in a 10-kilometre radius of Ichhapur will be culled and buried.

Bijay Kumar, animal husbandry commissioner of Maharashtra, says about 250,000 birds would have to be culled spread over some 200 villages in the Jalgaon region.

Maharashtra's animal health minister Anees Ahmed said the positive samples were tested during routine surveillance following the second outbreak in Jalgaon and appears to be a case of co-infection at the same site more at the same time.

Hundreds of thousands of chickens have been killed in February and March following the two previous outbreaks in Maharashtra, and Kumar says the same drill of culling birds, clean-up and sanitation will be repeated.

Officials have been quick to reassure people that although India has tested scores of people in areas where chickens have tested positive for bird flu, it has not as yet reported avian influenza in humans.

India has been testing birds in hundreds of villages around Jalgaon and the town of Navapur, but no specific source of the disease’s migration to Ichhapur as yet identified. The government says it will carry out extensive surveillance across the three bird flu-affected states in a 200-kilometer radius of Navapur and Jalgoan in Maharashtra.

According to the World Health Organisation, 186 people have been infected with the H5N1 strain of bird flu worldwide and of these, 105 have died.

Millions of chickens and other birds have also been culled in Europe, Asia and Africa.

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