Indian states bordering Bangladesh vulnerable to bird flu

By Sujit Chakraborty, IANS,

Agartala : Indian states bordering Bangladesh have become vulnerable to bird flu with Dhaka failing to check the contiguous disease as well as the smuggling of poultry products into India, officials here say.

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“Of the total of 64 Bangladesh districts, over 40 districts are hit by avian influenza or bird flu,” Tripura animal resource development department’s joint director Jyotirmoy Chakraborty told IANS here.

Five Indian states – West Bengal, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Assam and Tripura – share a 4,095- km border with Bangladesh. This includes a 2,979-km land border.

All the five states are occasionally affected by bird flu.

“The Indian states have been maintaining a close surveillance along the border villages and bordering poultry farms. We are unable to check the entry of bird flu-affected wild birds from across the borders,” Chakraborty said.

He said the authorities in Bangladesh have failed to control the disease and or check smuggling of poultry and poultry products into India.

“Unlike India, the Bangladesh government and its local authorities do not follow the guidelines of the international authorities, including WHO (World Health Organisation),” Chakraborty said.

Avian influenza is caused by viruses adapted to birds, and can also be transferred to humans. The flu’s most pathogenic strain (H5N1) had been spreading throughout Asia since 2003, reached Europe in 2005, and the Middle East and Africa the following year, causing global alarm.

According to WHO guidelines, poultry within a five-kilometre radius should be culled if avian influenza is detected at a place. In Bangladesh, culling is done within just a one-kilimetre radius, officials say.

Tripura has requested the Indian government to take up the matter with Bangladesh.

According to Bangladesh news site, several human cases of avian influenza have been detected in Dhaka and other areas in the past several months.

Some experts, including those from the New Delhi-based National Institute of Virology (NIV), feel Bangladesh poultry is the primary source of bird flu in India.

With last month’s bird flu outbreak at two government-run farms in Tripura — Radha Kishore Nagar and Gandhi Gram farms, some 30 km north of Agartala – the government had culled more than 20,500 ducks and poultry birds in the farms and adjoining five villages.

Besides, lakhs of eggs and huge quantities of feed material were destroyed.

Tripura, which shares an 856-km border with Bangladesh – the longest among the northeastern states – was also affected by avian influenza in April and May 2008, forcing the authorities to cull over 200,000 poultry birds then.

“We have asked the Border Security Force (BSF) to maintain strict vigil along the Indo-Bangladesh border to prevent illegal trade of poultry and poultry products from Bangladesh,” Chakraborty said.

Most of the northeastern states have also imposed a ban on the import of poultry, ducks and other poultry products from Bangladesh and bird flu-affected states.

Several central teams, including experts from the Indian Veterinary Research Institute (IVRI) in Uttar Pradesh and from the North Eastern Region Disease Diagnostic Laboratory (NERDDL) in Assam, have visited Tripura to provide necessary assistance to the state officials.

(Sujit Chakraborty can be contacted at [email protected])