Hyderabad: Avian Influenza or Bird Flu has been reported from Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Himachal Pradesh. Thousands of birds have died at least in 12 epicenters spread over four states.Both central and state governments have taken several steps to curb the spread of bird flu.

What is Avian Influenza/Bird Flu?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, bird flu refers to infection with avian influenza Type A viruses. These viruses occur naturally among wild aquatic birds worldwide and can infect domestic poultry and other bird and animal species. Wild aquatic birds can be infected with avian influenza A viruses in their intestines and respiratory tract, but usually do not get sick. However, avian influenza A viruses are very contagious among birds and some of these viruses can sicken and even kill certain domesticated bird species including chickens, ducks, and turkeys.

Infected birds can shed avian influenza A viruses in their saliva, nasal secretions, and feces. Susceptible birds become infected when they have contact with the virus as it is shed by infected birds. They also can become infected through contact with surfaces that are contaminated with viruses from infected birds.

Avian Influenza (AI) viruses have been circulating worldwide for centuries with four known major outbreaks recorded in the last century. India notified the first outbreak of avian influenza in 2006. Infection in humans is not yet reported in India though the disease is zoonotic. There is no direct evidence that AI viruses can be transmitted to humans via the consumption of contaminated poultry products. Implementing management practices that incorporate biosecurity principles, personal hygiene, and cleaning and disinfection protocols, as well as cooking and processing standards, are effective means of controlling the spread of the AI viruses.

In India, the disease spreads mainly by migratory birds coming into India during winter months i.e. from September – October to February – March. The secondary spread by human handling (through fomites) cannot be ruled out.

In view of the threat of the global outbreak, the Department of Animal Husbandry and Dairying (DAHD), Government of India had prepared an action plan in 2005 which was revised in 2006, 2012, 2015 and 2021 for the guidance of State Government for prevention, control, and containment of Avian Influenza in the Country.

Present outbreak

After confirmation of positive samples from ICAR-NIHSAD, AI has been reported from the following States (at 12 epicenters) –

Rajasthan (crow) – Baran, Kota, Jhalawar

Madhya Pradesh (crow) – Mandsaur, Indore, Malwa

Himachal Pradesh (migratory birds) - Kangra

Kerala (poultry-duck) - Kottayam, Allapuzha (4 epicenters)

A total of 17326 birds (9066 in Pallipad, 8260 in Karuvatta) have been culled and a total of 1570 kg feed have been destroyed in epicenters of the district of Alappuzha in Kerala. Around 4229 birds have been culled and a total of 8 kg feed and 42 eggs have been destroyed at the epicenter in Kottayam district on January 6.

Further, some samples of crow from Kale Hanumanji Forest Nakka, Jaipur, and Rajasthan found positive for H5N8 Avian influenza virus. Accordingly, advisories have been issued to the States so as to avoid further spread of disease to poultry. Unusual moralities have been found in 7111 domestic birds in Haryana, 150 wild birds in Madhya Pradesh, 10 crows in Gujarat, 336 migratory birds in Himachal Pradesh on January 6.

Action Plan of the Government

An advisory by the central government has been issued to the States of Rajasthan and MP on 1st January 2021, so as to avoid further spread of the infection. As per the information received from the State of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan control measures are being taken as per the guidelines of the National Action Plan of Avian Influenza. Another advisory has been issued on 5th January 2021 to Himachal Pradesh where the State has been advised to take measures so as to avoid further spread of disease to poultry. As per the report received, Kerala has already initiated control and containment operations from January 5. The culling process is in operation.

Measures taken by government

As of January 7, the Department of Animal Husbandry & Dairying, Government of India has also set up a control room in New Delhi to keep watch on the situation and to take stock on a daily basis of preventive and control measures undertaken by State authorities.

The measures suggested to the affected States to contain the disease and prevent further spread as per the Action Plan on Avian Influenza include strengthening the biosecurity of poultry farms, disinfection of affected areas, proper disposal of dead birds/carcasses, timely collection and submission of samples for confirmation and further surveillance, intensification of surveillance plan as well as the general guidelines for the prevention of disease spread from affected birds to poultry and human. Coordination with the forest department for reporting any unusual mortality of birds were also stressed. The other states were also requested to keep a vigil on any unusual mortality amongst birds and to report immediately to take necessary measures.

In India, the disease spreads mainly by migratory birds coming into India during winter months i.e. from September – October to February – March. The secondary spread by human handling (through fomites) cannot be ruled out.

Status in Telangana

Telangana Forest Department has taken the following measures to prevent Bird Flu and to report all cases of death of Birds detected in the field:

- The Curator, Nehru Zoo Park, and the officers incharge of Kakatiya Zoo, Warangal, Manjeera Bird Sanctuary, Sangareddy, Pakhal Wildlife Sanctuary including Pakhal lake, Siwaram WL Sanctuary, Kinnerasani WL Sanctuary including Kinnerasani lake have been instructed to constitute Rapid Response Teams for conducting patrolling in areas where migratory birds congregate. Similar directions have been given to all the circle heads and division heads.

- The field officers have been instructed to collect the carcasses of birds detected during this period, pack them safely and send them to veterinary science laboratories for analyzing and identifying the cause of death.

- The Forest Department requests the general public also to be alert during this period and if any dead bird is noticed, the information is to be passed on to the wildlife crime control cell at Aranya Bhavan, Hyderabad with a toll-free no. 18004255364, which functions around the clock.

- The District Officers have been requested to coordinate with Animal Husbandry as well as the District Administration in taking required preventive measures and vigil to detect the death of birds.

- The winter season attracts a large number of migratory birds from the Northern region of the Himalayas to the Southern States. These birds nest and breed in water bodies. Since these birds travel over long distances crossing several states, it is essential to keep track of these birds at the nesting and breeding sites. A suitable instruction has been issued in this regard by the government.

Telangana Forest Department requests the general public to give information 24x7 toll-free on any matter relating to Bird Flu for immediate response.

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