Several states have sounded an alert as thousands of birds have been found dead over the last two weeks. At least five states — Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Rajasthan and Haryana— have confirmed similar situations. The Centre has issued an alert to the states to monitor the health of birds in forest areas and near water bodies and they have opened a control room to coordinate the bird flu prevention in the five states.
Meanwhile, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have stepped up surveillance and formed guidelines after 12,000 ducks died due to the flu in the last few days in neighbouring Kerala, while Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab are also keeping tabs on unusual deaths of birds and poultry. The Madhya Pradesh government in the meantime has banned chicken trade with a few southern states for a limited period given the outbreak in parts of MP.
In an official statement, Union Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying said that in Rajasthan bird flu is reported in crows in the state’s Baran, Kota and Jhalawar district while Madhya Pradesh reported the disease in crows in Mandsaur, Indore and Malwa districts. In Himachal Pradesh, the bird flu is reported in migratory birds in Kangra while in Kerala, it is reported in poultry ducks in Kottayam and Alappuzha districts.
According to the statement, infection in humans is not yet reported in India though the disease is zoonotic — an infectious agent that jumps between humans and non-human creatures. “There is no direct evidence that AI (Avian Influenza) viruses can be transmitted to humans via the consumption of contaminated poultry products,” it said. Implementing management practices that incorporate biosecurity principles, personal hygiene, and cleaning and disinfection protocols, as well as cooking and processing standards, are effective means of controlling the spread of the AI viruses, the ministry added in the statement.
Meanwhile, the Centre and the Kerala government has declared bird flu as a state calamity. With avian influenza being detected among ducks in Alappuzha and Kottayam districts, the administration of the two districts has begun culling thousands of birds in the region.
According to Minister for Forest and Wildlife K Raju, a large number of ducks were found dead in Kottayam and Alappuzha districts. Although they were found dead in large numbers on December 19 in certain regions of Alappuzha, the incident was ignored by farmers because of the Christmas and New Year festivities.
Five of the eight samples sent for tests in Bhopal were confirmed of the virus. The disease was confirmed in Nedumudy, Thakazhi, Pallippadu, and Karuvatta regions of Alappuzha and Neendoor in Kottayam. A special team of health officials has been deployed to cull the birds, to contain the further spread of the disease. As per the preliminary reports, over 50,000 birds need to be culled, which comes as a blow to several farmers in the districts.
According to Raju, the government will compensate farmers. This is the third outbreak of avian influenza in the Alappuzha district in the past seven years. In 2014, around three lakh poultry were culled in Kuttanad. Two years later, more than seven lakh ducks were culled as part of containment operations in Alappuzha and Kottayam districts. According to reports, the government then had paid ₹100 for ducks that were less than two months old and ₹200 for those older than two months as compensation to the farmers.
Last year, bird flu was confirmed in Kozhikode and Malappuram, but the spread of the disease was prevented by killing the birds in the area. The state Cabinet had then decided to give a compensation of Rs 200 for each of the over two-month-old hens, which were culled. “The owners of the over two-month-old will get compensation of Rs 200 for each of culled birds, while those of less than two-month-old ones will get Rs 100 each. The state will also provide a compensation of Rs 5 each for the eggs that were destroyed in the area,” a release issued by the chief minister's office said.
The state government this time has decided to pay Rs 200 for birds more than two years old, Rs 100 for those birds that are below two months and Rs 5 for every egg to be destroyed. The farmers, however, note that the compensation is insufficient. Moreover, the compensation doesn’t cover the additional damages incurred by the farmers as it affects their future sale. In a year-old report, the number of poultry farmers came down by some 500-odd number due to the insecurity in the business. There were also allegations that the officials resorted to crude methods for the culling rather than the appropriate chloroform technique.