India begins culling operations to check spread of bird flu
( dpa ) - Authorities in India's eastern state of West Bengal began operations Wednesday to kill 378,000 birds to check the spread of bird flu.
The culling operations were launched in the northern districts of Birbhum and Dinajpur, where more than 35,000 birds have died in the past fortnight of H5N1, a strain of bird flu that can be deadly in humans.
"Altogether, 378,000 poultry birds in 105 villages in the two districts will be culled," state Animal Resource Minister Anisur Rahman told reporters.
The culling is to be done in a phased manner and would require seven to 10 days, he said.
The teams were making visits to houses and private poultry operations to collect the affected birds for killing and burial.
Medical workers were also carrying out door-to-door inspections of villagers with suspected symptoms of avian influenza.
Anti-bird flu tablets have been distributed to protect those involved in the culling operations as well as villagers with bird-flu symptoms, authorities said.
Meanwhile, federal Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar promised the situation "would soon be brought under control."
West Bengal has sealed its borders with Bangladesh, where 21 of its 64 districts have been affected by bird flu.
No human cases of the disease have been found in either Bangladesh or India so far.
India, however, has seen three outbreaks of bird flu in poultry since 2006. Cases of bird flu were last detected in the north-eastern state of Manipur in 2007. All the outbreaks were brought under control.
The virus is highly contagious among birds but is difficult to pass to humans, who usually become infected through close contact with infected birds or contaminated surfaces.
Health experts fear, however, that the virus could mutate into a form that could easily pass between humans, setting off a global pandemic that could kill millions.
Avian influenza cases have been reported among birds in 60 countries over the past four years. Most of the 217 human deaths from the disease since 2003 have been reported in Asia with the highest number of fatalities seen in Indonesia and Vietnam.