Bird deaths in several states due to avian influenza (or bird flu) has prompted the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change to issue generic guidelines on the disease, according to which the state should keep a strict vigil on the movement of birds in the wetlands for any mortality or signs of disease outbreak.
The states must set up a state-level monitoring committee and prepare an action plan for monitoring the migratory birds and dealing with any arising emergency. The veterinary departments should also collaborate for collection of samples. Surveillance should not be restricted to the protected area alone but to all such wetlands and habitats that provide staging grounds to the migratory birds, it said adding that deaths of migratory birds must be reported to the ministry.
Avian flu is an infection caused in birds by the Type A viruses, mostly found in wild aquatic or wild birds. The H5N1 virus is the most common type of avian flu. Affected birds display symptoms such as tremors, diarrhoea, head tilt and paralysis. The disease spreads quickly causing paralysis and staggering. It is transmitted between the affected poultry and recently from poultry to wild birds and vice versa.
Generic guidelines relating to Avian Influenza
- People should wear rubber gloves and protective clothing that can be disinfected or disposed of and use protective eyewear or a face shield while handling animals.
- Wash hands with soap and water often and disinfect works surfaces and equipment.
- Do not eat, drink, or smoke while handling animals.
- Minimize exposure to mucosal membranes by wearing protective eyewear.
- The influenza virus is sensitive to many common disinfectants such as detergents, 10% household bleach, alcohol and other commercial disinfectants. The virus is much more difficult to inactivate if it is encrusted in organic material such as faeces or soil.
- Take an influenza antiviral drug daily for the entire time one is in direct contact with infected birds or a contaminated environment.
- It should be ensured that wild birds are not harmed during trapping and collection of serum samples.
- Preference should be given to the leg vein instead of the wing vein. Wing vein blood collection is reported to result in haemorrhage affecting normal flight, making them susceptible to predators.
- All wild bird samples are vulnerable and hence all collection of samples, packing and transport should be done in collaboration with trained animal husbandry/veterinary staff.
- Awareness should be spread that any sighting of a dead bird by volunteers, bird watchers, etc. should be reported to the nearest forest/animal husbandry office.
Several states, including Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Kerala, have reported large scale deaths of avian species due to the H5N1 virus.
Himachal Pradesh: In the Pong wetland of Kangra district, the H5N1 virus has killed more than 1,900 species of migratory birds, including bar-headed goose, black-headed gull and river tern in in Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh. The counting is still on. Besides, crows and some other local birds have also been found dead in the wetland area.
Following reports from laboratories and veterinary colleges, authorities have declared 1-km area around the lake as red zone to contain the virus spread to poultry birds and humans. Also, sale of poultry products has been banned in four towns. Kangra’s district magistrate Rakesh Prajapati has said if the avian flu spreads, they may have to “cull poultry birds”.
Rajasthan: Deaths of seven more crows were reported on Sunday at Jal Mahal in Jaipur, taking the toll to 252. The animal husbandry department has sent teams to districts to set up a state-level control room. Till date, deaths of 100 crows have been reported from Jhalawar, 72 from Baran, 47 from Kota, 19 in Pali and seven each from Jodhpur and Jaipur.
An emergency meeting has been called and Rajasthan Animal Husbandry Minister Lalchand Kataria said they are is monitoring the bird flu situation in the state. Rajasthan government has issued guidelines and asked field officers to stay vigilant. Effective monitoring is being ensured at all sites, especially at wetlands, Sambhar Lake and Kaila Devi bird sanctuary.
Haryana: Deaths of lakhs of chickens have been reported since December 5 from around two dozen poultry farms Barwala in Panchkula district, one of the largest poultry belt in the country which has about 110 farms. The animal husbandry and dairying department has launched an extensive forensic probe to find the exact cause behind the mass mortality.
More than 80 samples of deceased birds, including their blood, the food given to them and carcasses, among others, were sent to the Regional Disease Diagnostic Laboratory (RDDL) in Jalandhar. Senior officers declined to report any symptoms of bird flu, but maintained that the concrete conclusion depends on the findings of the laboratory.
Madhya Pradesh: The bird flu virus was detected in about 50 crows whose carcasses were found in Indore last week, prompting authorities to issue an alert.
Punjab: Taking precautionary measures in view of the deaths of thousands of migratory birds in the Pong Dam lake in neighbouring Himachal Pradesh due to bird flu, the forests and wildlife preservation department has sounded an alert in the wetlands of Harike Pattan (Tarn Taran), Keshopur Chhamb (Gurdaspur), Nangal, Rupnagar and others. No casualty has been reported in this part of the region but the possibility of the disease reaching the wetlands cannot be ruled out.
Jharkhand: The state government on Monday issued an alert asking the district animal husbandry units to immediately report any unnatural death of birds and send samples for testing at the earliest. Though Jharkhand has not reported any case of bird flu yet, the directive has been issued by the state’s animal husbandry department as a precautionary measure following detection of the virus on the carcasses of birds in other northern states.
“We do not have a single case of bird flu in Jharkhand or in any of our neighbouring states (West Bengal, Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Bihar). But we do not want to take any chance,” said Nancy Sahay, director, state animal husbandry department.
Kerala: An outbreak of bird flu has been reported from Alappuzha and Kottayam, leading to the death of around 12,000 birds, according to a state minister. About 40,000 birds and ducks will be culled in the outbreak areas of these two districts to contain the spread of the virus, say reports.
In Alappuzha, mostly H5N8 viruses were found in the duck carcasses, the district collector has said. In the district, an 18-member rapid response team, including 10 doctors, has been deployed for carrying out the culling process. In Kottayam, eight rapid response teams have been deployed, said the district collector.