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Religious beliefs hampering culling in Assam


Guwahati : Religious and superstitious beliefs are coming in the way of culling of poultry in Assam where bird flu has spread to new areas posing serious health risks to humans, officials Sunday said.

“We are in a very delicate sort of a situation, although there are no reports of humans contracting bird flu so far,” V.P Rana, a central health ministry official, told IANS.

Four people, including two veterinary officials involved in the culling operations, were put under surveillance and blood samples collected after they complained of fever and cold in western Chirang district of Assam.

“We have sent blood samples of four people to a laboratory in New Delhi to ascertain if they had contracted the bird flu virus. There were some 150 more people who had earlier complained of fever and cold, although we had ruled out the virus infecting these people,” Parthajyoti Gogoi, another central health ministry official, said.

Meanwhile, authorities were continuing slaughtering poultry in eight Assam districts with an estimated 350,000 birds culled so far.

“About 150,000 more birds are being culled and we hope to complete the culling drive by Tuesday,” Assam veterinary director A. Kataki said. An Assam government spokesman said there were reports of bird flu spreading to new villages in eastern and western Assam.

“We are being able to gradually control bird flu from spreading further although the danger is far from over,” Kataki said.

Tribal villagers in western Chirang district resisted authorities culling poultry and instead carried our chicken sacrifices as part of a local religious festival.

“We did not allow the authorities to cull our chickens as we need them for sacrificing as part of the festival. God is there to help us and nobody in our village would fall sick,” Monolal Basumatary, a community elder, said justifying their refusal to cooperate with the culling process.

Local authorities were in a fix.

“We cannot use force to kill the birds as that might hurt religious sentiments. We have been trying our best to convince the populace that culling is the only way to prevent bird flu from spreading further and also the risk of humans contracting the virus,” P.P. Baruah, Chirang district magistrate, said.

A 15-member team of central health ministry experts is carrying out door-to-door health check ups, while a central animal husbandry team too is supervising the culling operations which have also begun in adjoining Meghalaya state with an estimated 3,000 birds slaughtered.

“We have begun culling as a precautionary measure as some of the villages in our state adjoin Assam where bird flu has struck. We have sent samples for laboratory tests and are awaiting the results,” Meghalaya veterinary director D. Khonglah said.