India battles to contain 'very serious' bird flu outbreak
Health workers in eastern India battled Friday to contain a "very serious" bird flu outbreak, amid reports the virus had spread to new areas and local people were resisting a mass poultry cull.
Officials in the densely-populated state of West Bengal said chickens were still on sale despite a ban, while New Delhi called in paramilitary troops to prevent birds being smuggled out.
"The situation is very, very serious in 102 villages in three districts of Birbhum, Murshidabad and South Dinajpur," West Bengal animal resources development minister Anisur Rahaman said.
"Villagers are resisting culling operations. Chickens are on sale despite a ban and reports of poultry deaths from new places keep coming," he added.
But he said there had been no reports of human cases since the outbreak of the disease," adding that he would visit the affected areas on Saturday.
In New Delhi, a home ministry official said the paramilitary Border Security Force had been called in to stop chickens being smuggled into Bangladesh, where the virus has also broken out.
But West Bengal health services director Sanchita Baksi said villagers were throwing chicken carcasses into rivers and ponds, increasing the risk of the virus spreading.
"And in some areas, villagers are feasting on dead chickens and are reluctant to disclose if there are any chickens or ducks in their backyards.
"Thousands of people are in danger," she warned, adding that local hostility was hampering efforts to cull the birds.
The cull began Wednesday after the agriculture ministry confirmed the deaths were due to the deadly H5N1 strain.
The federal government has sent advisories to states neighbouring West Bengal in a bid to contain the spread of the disease.
More than 62,000 chickens and ducks have died over the past the past week in the three districts affected, West Bengal animal resources development director Dilip Das said.
"It will take at least 20 days to reach our target to slaughter 350,000 chickens and ducks," he said.
Baksi said there were reports other birds had also been infected.
"We are worried over the reports that crows and hawks are dropping dead in some bird-flu affected areas, she said.
"We are trying to tell the people not to touch any birds lying in the those places.
Humans are typically infected by coming into direct contact with infected poultry, but experts fear the deadly virus may mutate into a form easily transmissible between humans.
Wild migratory birds have been blamed for the global spread of the disease, which has killed more than 200 people worldwide since 2003.
The outbreak is the third in India, home to 1.1 billion people, since 2006. (AFP)
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