Will we ever be rid of bird flu?

Experts say that the rapid spread of bird flu in India will be impossible to eradicate and is certain to remain a long-term threat in many areas.

In the last two months India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Myanmar have culled hundreds of thousands of chickens and shut poultry farms, yet the virus continues to spread to new areas.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said that once the virus gets a grip in a country it is difficult to halt the spread.

To date no humans are known to have been infected in South Asia, where hundreds of millions in the countryside live with their poultry in their yards, but anxiety over the virus has meant demand for chicken meat and eggs has plummeted and destroyed the livelihoods of many.

According to some reports the devastation of India's $7.8 billion poultry industry has led to the suicides of some Indian farmers.

India has a population of 1.1 billion people and is currently attempting to eradicate its fourth outbreak since February.

It has culled some 500,000 birds and destroyed nearly two million eggs mostly in the country's west but much of the region's poultry industry is unorganised.

Indian officials say that a lack of laboratories, trained veterinary personnel and ignorance about the disease means that once a disease takes hold in the country it never goes away and admit they face an uphill battle against bird flu.

Experts have long feared the virus will mutate and acquire the ability to spread easily from person to person, triggering a pandemic.

In regions where many have little or no access to already strained health services, such a virus would spread like wildfire among humans with no line of defence.

Indian officials are aware of a sense of crisis, but many ordinary people are now almost resigned to the inevitable and regard it as just one of many threats they face as they face a daily struggle to survive.

The WHO says the gap between reporting dead birds and action on the ground in India is around 15 days and that means bird flu may spread to other areas.

In Afghanistan the H5N1 virus has been confirmed in three provinces and the on-going war and insurgency, a difficult terrain and shambolic infrastructure have hampered efforts to fight it.

Neighbour Pakistan, has found the H5N1 strain in two poultry flocks and after culling around 23,000 birds the situation appears to be under control, while to date Bangladesh and Sri Lanka despite their proximity to India, have remained clear.

Both countries have closely monitored migratory birds and the possible smuggling of poultry from infected countries, which remains a major concern in many areas.

U.N. officials have expressed grave concern about Myanmar and say the country's secretive military regime is now facing more than 100 outbreaks in poultry.

The government has apparently been cooperating with U.N. teams.

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The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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