Villagers in eastern India are continuing to eat chickens killed by bird flu, prompting fears the country's worst ever outbreak of the virus could worsen, an official said Monday.
West Bengal animal resources development minister, Anisur Rahaman, told AFP that the situation in the affected areas was "horrible," and that authorities needed to accelerate a cull of hundreds of thousands of chickens and ducks.
"The ignorance of villagers is one of the main hurdles. They are carrying the dead chickens without any protective gear," he said.
"Most villagers are not aware of the disease. They are eating the dead chickens. Their children are playing with the infected chickens on the courtyards. It's horrible," Rahaman added.
Six districts in West Bengal state have reported outbreaks of avian flu among poultry.
Rahaman said there were fears it could be spreading further afield in the state, with suspect poultry spotted in the hill resort of Darjeeling on the border with Nepal, and in several villages in Coochbehar bordering Bangladesh, which is also fighting a bird flu outbreak.
"Blood samples of the dead poultry have been sent for tests. We are awaiting the report," he said.
Rahaman said authorities had so far killed 200,000 birds, and were planning to cull 500,000 more in the next three to four days.
The outbreak is the third in India since 2006 and the worst so far because it is more widespread, according to the World Health Organisation.
Residents are also opposing the slaughter of their birds because they want immediate compensation.
Humans typically catch the disease by coming into direct contact with infected poultry, but experts fear the deadly H5N1 strain of the virus may mutate into a form easily transmissible between humans.
Migratory birds have been largely blamed for the global spread of the disease, which has killed more than 200 people worldwide since 2003. (AFP)
India struggles with worst ever bird flu outbreak