Indian state asks for help to defeat bird flu

 
The Indian state of West Bengal, battling the country's worst outbreak of deadly bird flu, appealed on Saturday to the federal government to send "all possible help to defeat" the virus.

The call by state animal resources minister Anisur Rahaman came as authorities struggled to stop the disease spreading beyond the 12 out of 19 state districts already affected.

"We have to control the disease immediately as the deadly H5N1 virus has been spreading fast," Rahaman said, adding "avian flu is knocking on the doors of Kolkata," the eastern state's congested capital of 13.5 million people.

"I'm urging the federal government to send all possible help to defeat the virus before it affects the humans," he told AFP.

New Delhi has already sent some medical teams and other assistance to the state.

Three days of heavy rains have held up efforts to slaughter poultry, turning some rural dirt roads into muddy rivers and making it impossible for health teams to reach chicken farms in the poverty-ridden state.

Rahaman said he was deeply concerned by reports some villagers in rural areas were eating slaughtered chickens.

"We don't understand why people do not understand the dangers of the disease despite repeated warnings," he said, adding children were still playing with chickens.

Humans typically catch the disease by coming into direct contact with infected poultry, but experts fear the H5N1 strain may mutate into a form easily transmissible between people.

Panic about bird flu has gripped Kolkata after news spread that the disease had reached the outskirts of the city on Friday.

Few shops were selling poultry on Saturday in the city.

"Not a single customer has come to my shop since the morning," said Malati Mondal, a store owner.

The government has raised the number of chickens to be slaughtered to 2.5 million from 2.2 million, Rahaman said, adding 1.3 million had been killed so far.

Workers at entry points to Kolkata were disinfecting vehicles entering the city.

India has not had any human cases of bird flu. But Rahaman said he feared the disease would spread to humans with hundreds of people reporting flu symptoms. (AFP)
 
 
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