( dpa ) - The latest outbreak of bird flu in India spread to a 14th district in eastern West Bengal state while authorities in the capital Kolkata increased surveillance to stop the disease from reaching the city of 13 million, officials and news reports said Wednesday.
Culling operations were underway in North 24-Parganas, the latest district suspected of being hit by avian influenza, an official at a 24-hour control room set up by the animal husbandry department said.
More than 200 birds were found dead at a farm in the district but samples had not yet been confirmed for the H5N1 virus, the official added.
The outbreak of bird flu has been officially confirmed in 13 of West Bengal's 19 districts and in large areas of neighbouring Bangladesh.
North 24-Parganas, South 24-Parganas and Howrah districts all border Kolkata, where teams of animal health workers were carrying out strict surveillance at poultry markets, PTI news agency reported.
No human infection has been reported so far in what the World Health Organization described as the most serious outbreak of avian influenza in India.
Health workers have been conducting house-to-house surveys in the affected areas, a federal Health Ministry release said. A couple of thousand people were found to have fever but were not suspected of having avian influenza. Two of these had a history of exposure to infected poultry and were being monitored, the release said.
All personnel involved in culling operations were being given preventive medication and supplies of Tamiflu had also been sent to neighbouring states.
Jharkhand, Bihar and Assam states, which share a common border with West Bengal, had been instructed to prevent entry and ban sales of poultry from West Bengal.
More than 2.2 million fowl have been culled in West Bengal since the outbreak was confirmed on January 15. Nearly 130,000 birds had died in the state so far, an animal husbandry department release said.
The impact of the bird flu outbreak was being felt by the poultry industry across India as more people stopped buying chicken and eggs. The federal Agriculture Ministry had called a meeting of poultry industry representatives in Delhi Wednesday to discuss a relief package for farmers.
The government has also sought information from Bangladesh on the strains of the avian influenza currently circulating in that country in an attempt to trace the source the origin of the viral infection.
The Health Ministry asked the Ministry of External Affairs to seek details of the gene sequencing of the bird flu virus in Bangladesh.
"Once we cull the birds and do away with them, if again the infection comes we need to know where it has come from," Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss was quoted as saying. The possibility of the disease being brought in by migratory birds was also being investigated, officials said.
All states bordering Bangladesh have been asked to tighten security and customs officials were instructed to check for any movement of poultry on the borders, PTI reported.
Avian influenza cases have been reported among birds in 60 countries over the past four years. Most of the 221 human deaths from the disease since 2003 have been reported in Asia with the highest number of fatalities in Indonesia and Vietnam.