3 Indian States Confirm Bird Flu, Plan to Cull Thousands of Local Birds
Thousands of birds have dropped dead in several states in India — Kerala, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan — leading officials there to announce a mass culling of birds residing in the infected regions. The reason for this drastic step involves limiting the spread of an avian influenza virus strain, which officials have identified to be the cause of mass bird deaths, and preventing its transmission to humans.
A 2008 paper published in the Indian Journal of Medical Ethics states, “The generally understood and primary rationale for culling is that you cull some of the fowl in the vicinity of the proven infection, which are usually recognized from sudden mass deaths of fowl, in order to save the rest.”
Most recently, Kerala’s Animal Husbandry Department (AHD) found the H5N8 strain of avian influenza in birds that dropped dead in the Kuttanad region of the state. They found more than 25,000 ducks dead in Nedumudi, Pallipad, Thakazhi, and Karuvatta. While the avian flu strain is not as dangerous as its H5N5 counterpart and has not yet spread from the birds to humans in the area, Kerala’s AHD district officer Santhoshkumar T.K. tells The New Indian Express it’s a possibility. “The waterlogging in Kuttanad and presence of salinity will increase the spread of the virus,” he says, adding the flu was probably introduced in the region via migratory birds that tend to flock in during November and December.
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Now, officials are culling birds within 1 kilometer of the infected areas, in a team led by a veterinary doctor and a few livestock inspectors. “The birds will be culled in a place close to the infected area. Carcasses of the culled birds will be burned. Firewood, diesel, and sugar needed will be provided by the respective grama panchayats. All those involved in the culling operations will wear PPE kits. They will also be given preventive medicines,” an official involved in the process told The Hindu.
In Himachal Pradesh, officials confirmed a similar diagnosis of avian flu as the cause of the death of 2,300 migratory birds in the Kangra district of the state. As a result, the state has banned the selling and buying of poultry in neighbouring regions, as commercial transport of poultry is one of the major ways in which such virus strains spread, according to the IJME paper.
Officials in Rajasthan have also identified avian flu as the cause for the death of hundreds of crows, a majority of which were reported in and near Jaipur. Looking at the widespread death of birds across the country, and the currently unquantified threat these pose, the states of Jharkhand, Punjab, and Madhya Pradesh have sounded warnings to keep a check on possible bird deaths and attempt to prevent the spread of the virus. This, an animal husbandry official in Punjab told the Times of India, will be done by collecting bird droppings and water samples, to be sent to a diagnostic laboratory for evaluation.
The most important thing to keep in mind here is the risk of over-culling, which can rob several livestock rearers and farmers in the area of their livelihoods while inflicting undue violence on the birds. Government officials will have to toe a thin line when it comes to culling birds in infected areas, with the best way being to proceed with caution, and constantly test before embarking on any mass culling.