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With the death of the tenth bird due to suspected H5 flu, Development Minister Gopal Rai, who visited the zoo on Wednesday for an inspection, launched a helpline for citizens to alert the government of suspected cases and deployed six rapid response teams across chicken mandis and bird sanctuaries as part of immediate precaution.
Rai, who took stock of the situation at the zoo on Wednesday, said, “The H5 Avian influenza was initially carried by local migratory wild birds. So there might be places outside the zoo where the virus is spreading from. We have alerted departments in the Delhi government to keep a watch for these. We have formed and deployed six rapid response teams in Okhla bird sanctuary, the Nizamuddin bird market, Ghazipur chicken mandi, Yamuna biodivesity park, the area around the Najafgarh drain and the zoo. We have deployed a team of ten personnel to monitor the situation in the zoo. Disinfectants are being regularly sprayed in the zoo.”
Rai further said, “The zoo will be closed to visitors till tomorrow as part of precautionary measures because this is the first time such a flu has infected birds in the zoo. A team of experts and doctors will review the situation and study it over the next few days after which a decision will be taken whether to continue with the closure of the zoo or open it.”
Nine birds, including ducks and pelicans, were found dead this week on October 14, 15 and 17, forcing zoo authorities to close the zoo to visitors on Tuesday and send samples for testing to labs in Jalandhar and Bhopal. “The reports were first sent to Jalandhar and then to the central government’s laboratory in Bhopal also confirmed the presence of H5 avian influenza in these birds,” Zoo director Amitabh Agnihotri said.
Agnihotri added, “This flu is not a threat to human beings as of now. It is found in wild birds. In the zoo it was found in non-resident birds who frequent the zoo. It has not infected the resident birds.”
Rai said he will hold a meeting of all stakeholders to submit reports from their studies of all points including poultry farms across Delhi after which the next leg of measures will be decided and implemented. Meanwhile, the Delhi government has decided to, as part of its preventive action plan, spray chalk dust and insecticides like baygon spray at all places in Delhi where birds, both poultry and wild or domesticated, are found.
The Delhi government also set up a helpline number 23890318 manned by the animal husbandry department under Rai for citizens to inform the government about suspicious bird deaths, especially in poultry birds which can pass on infection to human beings if consumed.
Rai said the flu does not spread to humans unless an infected bird is consumed. He said chicken farms and markets are therefore the focus of inspection teams for the government. The government has also called a joint meeting for departments of health, development, environment, revenue and the union animal husbandry department to discuss the flu alert.
Rai also said his department will be interacting with a team from Maharashtra which tackled the bird flu outbreak of 2008 in the state, one of the biggest such in the country. “This is the first time birds in Delhi have been infected so we will need expert advice from states like Kerela, Maharasthra and West Bengal which have faced the problem before,” Rai said.