Avoid panic

The outbreak of avian influenza in Bangalore, has triggered panic not only in surrounding cities but in the neighbouring states, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, as well.

It was the death of around 3,480 turkeys last week at Hesarghatta that first set off the alarm. Those deaths were found to be caused by highly pathogenic avian flu. The death of turkeys was followed by that of hundreds of chicken and ducks over the weekend, forcing authorities to order the culling of over 30,000 birds in the poultry and its environs.

Chicken, duck and turkey units were also sanitised to prevent the disease from spreading. Besides quarantining the government-run poultry farm at Hesarghatta, private farms located in a radius of 10 km of the institute were shut too and a ban on sale of poultry products was put in place.

 Animal husbandry authorities have done well to put in place strong measures to prevent the spread of avian flu. Caused by a highly contagious virus, avian flu has in the past spread across continents and even crossed the seas. Its spread across Southeast Asia in 2003 and Europe in 2005 caused immense panic and inflicted huge economic losses.

Fears that avian flu would cause death in human beings – around 359 people from 12 countries have died due to avian flu since the discovery of the disease, according to World Health Organisation data - triggered mass culling of birds.
While strong measures to prevent the spread of avian flu are welcome, panic responses are unwarranted.

The government must make a calm assessment of the severity of the disease and act accordingly. It is important that authorities engage in a campaign to inform the public about avian flu, its symptoms among poultry and recommended steps. Private poultry farmers should be encouraged not to hide the facts about the flu. Importantly, the government needs to provide information of the threat if any to human beings. The public needs to know how humans contract the disease.  Will eating chicken make one vulnerable to the disease?

Are those who are in physical contact with infected poultry more vulnerable? Can avian flu spread from one human to another? Understanding of avian flu is still at a nascent stage. Since the virus mutates, facts about the flu keep getting outdated. Still, sharing information in a transparent manner should be an important part of the  strategy to tackle avian flu.

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