India put 26 people in isolation after they fell sick while culling poultry in a state affected by bird flu; medical staff were monitoring hundreds of others, officials said on Friday.
Those quarantined in the eastern state of West Bengal complained of fever and respiratory distress over the past few days, but health staff said it was unlikely they had bird flu.
India has not reported any human infection of the H5N1 bird flu virus in its four outbreaks of avian influenza since 2006.
"The preliminary tests for bird flu are negative, but more tests are being conducted and the list of sick people reviewed every day," R.S. Shukla, a senior health official, told Reuters.
Bird flu has spread to 13 of West Bengal's 19 districts, spelling trouble for parts of India's poultry business.
Egg exports from the world's second largest producer have dropped about 50 per cent in the past two weeks, leaving the industry with losses of around $20 million (Dh73 million), trade officials said.
Consumption of poultry products has fallen to negligible levels in West Bengal, but chicken sales are recovering in the rest of India after an initial wobble when the latest outbreak was announced.
Veterinary staff have culled 2.6 million birds, completing what officials said was a successful operation that had brought the bird flu situation under control.
The focus now is on hundreds of medical and veterinary workers and villagers who had come into close contact with dead or sick birds. Officials said health staff returning home after the culling operation had been asked to get themselves checked.
Dozens of isolation wards had been created in hospitals in the affected districts to handle any sudden rush of suspected human cases.
Experts fear the H5N1 strain could mutate into a form easily transmitted from person to person, leading to a pandemic, especially in countries such as India where people live in close proximity to backyard poultry.
"We are aware of the consequences of a possible human infection and we are taking all possible measures," Surjya Kanta Mishra, the state's health minister, said.
Bird deaths were reported from the north Indian state of Haryana, close to New Delhi, but authorities said preliminary tests for bird flu had turned up negative.
"There have been some deaths, but these are due to septicaemia and not avian flu," V.P Nehra, a senior animal husbandry official, said. (Reuters)
India isolates 26 people on bird flu fears