The flu returns

The flu returns

The outbreak of avian influenza, popularly known as bird flu, in some villages in West Bengal has created a scare about resurgence and spread of the epidemic. The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)  had recently alerted India about its possible resurgence. It was only in July that the country was declared free of bird flu after the last known case was successfully handled in Tripura in February this year. But according to the FAO the danger still lurks and if there is a fresh outbreak it may be worse than in the past. This is because a new strain of the bird flu virus is in circulation and it is resistant to drugs and vaccines. The new virus is being carried by wild and migratory birds from China and Vietnam to other countries. It is not known whether the disease, now detected In West  Bengal, was caused by the new virus. Only tests being done now, after culling of affected poultry birds, will show that.

Past outbreaks of bird flu have taken a big toll of lives of poultry and caused major economic losses. They have also posed a danger to human health. About 350 people and 400 million domestic poultry have fallen victim to the epidemic all over the world. The WHO has also warned about likely infection of humans from affected poultry. India has known the epidemic from 2006 and the culling of millions of domestic poultry had created widespread panic and distress among farmers. But once there is evidence of the presence of the virus there is no remedy other than culling. Steps will have to be taken to isolate  the localities where the infection has been detected and to create  a sanitary firewall around other areas. They do not provide full protection because it is difficult to control the spread of the virus through migratory birds.

Though the epidemic had created much scare when it lasted, it was brought under control without too much delay. The effort should be to minimise losses and avoid panic, now that the disease has struck again. Preventive measures should also be taken.
Poultry units should have high standards of cleanliness. Farmers should also be advised to keep the poultry away from wild birds. The veterinary department and its staff should be ready to handle any distress situation effectively.

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