The recent deaths of ducks at the Sukhna Lake assumed a more serious dimension on Wednesday after preliminary tests conducted at Bhopal-based High Security Animal Disease Laboratory showed the presence of H5N1 bird flu virus in one of the birds.
As precautionary measures, the Animal Husbandry Department confined the 90-odd ducks on the island in the middle of the lake by raising a fence, and decided to disallow morning walkers. Government hospitals in the city were alerted to get ready to deal with any situation.
Five rapid response teams of experts were formed to carry out culling of birds should subsequent tests confirm the preliminary findings.
K K Sharma, Adviser to the Administrator, said, “There is no need to panic. The situation is in control and we are taking every precautionary measure to contain the disease. We are in touch with central government teams, who will visit the lake tomorrow morning to check the situation on ground.”
In the last one week, as many as 27 ducks have died at the lake, two of them today. The lake also has large flocks of migratory birds which arrive every winter, but none of them has died so far. To know the cause of death of the ducks, samples of five ducks were sent to the Regional Disease Diagnostic Laboratory, Jalandhar. Since the test results were inconclusive, samples were then sent to HSADL for advanced testing. In a report to the Centre, HSADL has informed that one bird had tested positive for H5N1 virus in premilinary tests.
“In the morning, the administration received a phone call from the Union Ministry of Health, wherein they verbally confirmed about the positivity of avian influenza in one of the five samples”, said Prince Dhawan, Director of Animal Husbandry, who has been appointed nodal officer to deal with the issue. He said that they were waiting for the final reports.
“We have not received a written communication either from HSADL or from the central government. The moment we get a reconfirmation from the ministry about the presence of H5N1, the mass culling of ducks will be started. It will take not more than three hours for our teams to complete the process,” the official said.
People going close to the ducks will be given protective wear. “The rapid response teams will first administer drugs to kill the birds. After this, the dead birds will be buried with a multi-layered chemical process to prevent any further contamination. For at least one week, chemcial sprays will be done over their burial ground,” he said.
Deputy Conservator of Forests Birendra Choudhary said they were not ruling out the possibility that the infection might have been carried by migratory birds, because ‘only after the arrival of these birds did the ducks start dying.”
Serum of some migratory birds had been sent for testing to the Jalandhar lab and the reports are awaited, Choudhary said.
Among the many migratory birds at the lake are pintail ducks. US newpapers in the last few days have reported presence of H5N2 virus in pintail ducks in Whatcom County in Washington.
Choudhary said that an area of one kilometre radius around the island was ‘the danger zone’. The Forest Department will soon decide whether to stop issuing permits for picnics in Nepli and Kansal forests, across the lake.
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