West Bengal says bird flu outbreak under control


Kolkata : West Bengal authorities said Thursday the bird flu outbreak was under control, after days of panic, but added it would take four-five days to cull the over two million birds in the affected areas.

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“The outbreak is under control. There is no report of the disease spreading to new areas,” Home Secretary Prasad Ranjan Roy said after meeting Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya and Animal Husbandry Minister Anisur Rahaman.

“The culling operation will be completed in Burdwan, Bankura and South Dinajpur districts by Thursday. We need to step up our operation in Murshidabad and Birbhum. It will take another four-five days to complete our task,” Roy added.

Roy allayed fears of the virus reaching Kolkata in the wake of reports of outbreak in Hooghly, only 19 km from the city. “There is no threat to Kolkata. We are keeping a close watch on the situation.”

The chief minister directed Roy to ensure the disease did not envelop Kolkata. All entry points to the city have been sealed to prevent the entry of affected birds.

The deadly bird flu has led to the slaughter of over 450,000 birds in West Bengal so far even as it spread to Dinhata in Cooch Behar district in the north and Balagarh in Hooghly district, affecting nine of the total 19 districts.

“So far 34 blocks and four municipal areas have been hit by the disease,” minister Rahman said. “From 640 culling teams Wednesday, the number was increased to 750 Thursday.”

Meanwhile, culling id set to commence in Malda, where the outbreak was confirmed three days back, district magistrate C.R. Das told IANS.

Reeling under the impact of the virus, the state’s poultry industry said it had lost over Rs.1 billion ($25 million) in the past fortnight.

“Culling is slow and ham-handed. We are suffering because of that. The police are harassing us by intercepting our consignments and demanding bribes while the adverse campaign has affected the business,” West Bengal Poultry Welfare Association president Sheikh Nazrul Islam told IANS.

“In rural areas the government had given a woman member of each family 10 hens. Now when it is demanding them back for culling, the families are not forthcoming,” he said.

“We are impoverished. We have to start from the scratch now,” said Islam. Many states have banned the import of chicken from West Bengal.

In the villages, women folk who saw better days from rearing backyard poultry are devastated.

“How will we live now? All the 20 hens and ducks I had were slaughtered. We were heavily dependent on the earning from selling eggs,” said a woman from Mangolkot in Burdwan district, about 200 km from here.

The government has sanctioned Rs.50 million to battle the flu while the central government has disbursed Rs.35 million. The government has sought Rs.80.25 million more.

Farmers were being given tokens at culling sites and asked to contact their panchayat or village block offices for compensation. The payment is Rs.40 for a country chicken, Rs.30 for a broiler and Rs.10 for a chick.

Many villagers, however, are unhappy with the compensation. The nine districts now in the grip of the epidemic are Birbhum, South Dinajpur, Murshidabad, Nadia, Burdwan, Bankura, Malda, Hooghly and Cooch Behar.

The H5N1 virus causes a type of influenza in birds that is highly contagious. It does not usually infect people unless they come in close contact with infected birds or contaminated surfaces.