Fearing the spread of avian influenza (H5N1) to other areas, about 1,500 birds, many of them rare, at an animal helpline — Asha Foundation — in Ahmedabad were culled by the state animal husbandry department Wednesday. The process to cull another 150 birds with residents within 1 km radius of the epicentre (the NGO site at Hathijan) at the earliest has started. A team from Health Ministry will be visiting the site on Thursday.
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The state government authorities claimed that on Wednesday, the NGO was left with no bird after the culling process. The animal husbandry department is trying to investigate the source of the outset of bird flu at the NGO. At the same time, out of the total staff of 22 members of the NGO, 14 are under antiviral medicine tamiflu (Oseltamivir phosphate). Disinfection within 1-10 km radius is also under process.
The state government on Tuesday declared two “alert zones” — all villages within 10 km radius of Hathijan village in Daskroi taluka of Ahmedabad and those surrounding Kheda district. These zones cover a total of 36 villages in two districts – 30 in Ahmedabad and 6 in Kheda. The notification of the two alert zones issued by the Animal Husbandry Department on Tuesday stays. This was issued after the interim test reports by the National Institute of High Security Animal Disease (NIHSAD), Bhopal, confirmed the bird flu among the bird that died at Asha Foundation on December 30 and 31.
“Till afternoon, as many as 1,481 birds have been culled. Out of these, nearly 1,333 are guinea fowls. The remaining are 118 ducks, 4 turkey and some other birds. The survey, conducted by the department staff, has identified another 150 birds – hens and pigeons reared by the residents within 1 km of Asha Foundation at Hathijan.They are under the process of being culled. Also, around 4-5 poultry shops in this radius have been sealed,” said Dr S Murali Krishna, secretary Animal Husbandry Department.
The authorities are also in the process of identifying the source of this viral infection that can also infect humans and other animals. The human cases of H5N1 avian influenza occur occasionally and it is difficult to transmit the infection from person to person. However, when infected, the human mortality rate is as high as about 60 per cent.
“At this stage, we are ruling out all foul play. Investigations are still going on. Since the NGO founder belongs to Pune, there could be chances that he might have brought these birds en route Mumbai. On the other hand, investigations have revealed that those birds that were found from Vastral area were being transported from Uttar Pradesh and were taken to Surat. Still, we are trying to verify the authenticity of the sources,” said Dr Krishna.
The NGO director, Harmesh Bhatt, had brought nearly 200 guinea fowls and turkeys from Mumbai’s Crawford market. After a few days, another 700-750 guinea fowls were brought at the animal helpline from Vastral after these were unloaded from a truck suspiciously. In between, nearly 4-5 birds died at the foundation premises.
Bhatt claims he had informed the animal husbandry department on both the occasions. “I informed the animal husbandry department that I brought 200 birds from Mumbai and also about the ones brought from Vastral.” He blamed the authorities for not following the protocol and the guidelines laid down by the Centre during the culling process. “The authorities have not sealed the one kilometre radius neither the foundation’s premises. Everyone is allowed to move freely,” he alleged.
Meanwhile, appealing to all not to panic, state health minister Shankar Chaudhary told reporters in Gandhinagar, “Though human beings are not the carrier of this virus, still as a precautionary measure, 14 staff members of Asha Foundation are being administered tamiflu and kept in isolation for seven days.” Animal Husbandry Minister Babu Bokhiriya said, “On December 30 and 31, 26 birds died at Asha Foundation. Their samples were sent to Bhopal (NIHSAD). As per Government of India’s guidelines, the state government is proactively taking all precautionary measures. Also, bird flu check has been a continuous process throughout the year followed by the state government. That is the reason that in the last ten years, not a single case has been reported from Gujarat.”