Barely eight months after India declared itself free from avian influenza (bird flu) in June 2010, this fatal and highly contagious disease has resurfaced in Tripura.
Samples of sick poultry birds from the government duck farm at R K Nagar in Agartala were yesterday found to contain H5 strain of avian influenza virus.
Consequently, the department of animal husbandry formally notified the re-emergence of bird flu. The tests were conducted at the high-security Animal Disease Laboratory, Bhopal, and another laboratory in Kolkata. Both laboratories confirmed the H5 strain of avian flu.
The highly pathogenic and virulent H5N1 strain of bird flu virus has been circulating in the country since 2004, causing immense economic losses to the poultry industry.
The first couple of bird flu epidemics had created scare among consumers because this virus could be passed on by birds to human beings. This had resulted in sharp decline in domestic poultry consumption and export of poultry products.
The poultry industry, then deemed worth Rs 30,000 crore, had taken a severe hit. It took a couple of years to convince consumers it was safe to consume cooked poultry products.
The last incident of highly pathogenic avian influenza had occurred in Murshidabad district of West Bengal, with its epicentre at Khargram block, in January 2010. It was, however, successfully contained in that area itself and eradicated by March 2010 by destroying all poultry birds there and in areas around the epicentre. The country was later declared free of bird flu on June 2, 2010, to prevent any adverse effect of the disease on the domestic sale and export of poultry products, including eggs and meat.
Reacting quickly to the resurgence of the disease in Tripura, the government has ordered culling of all birds and destruction of eggs and feed material at R K Nagar duck farm and its surrounding three-km area. Besides, surveillance has been ordered over a further radius of 10 kms to prevent the disease from spreading.
The Centre has also advised a series of other strategic actions by the state’s departments of animal husbandry and public health in this area. These include ban on movement of poultry and its products in the infected area and closure of poultry and egg markets and shops within a radius of 10 kms from the infected site. Besides, it has advised ban on movement of farm personnel to outside the region and restrictions on people’s access to the infected premises. According to poultry experts, India faces constant threat of H5N1 onslaught because the virus is present in some of the neighbouring countries.
Infection can be transmitted over long distances by wild and migratory birds.