India battles to stop spread of bird flu to Kolkata
Indian health authorities battled yesterday to stop the country's worst bird flu outbreak from spreading to the densely populated city of Kolkata as heavy rain hampered culling efforts.
The disease has spread to over half of West Bengal state, including areas just 20 kilometres from Kolkata since the presence of the deadly H5N1 strain in dead chickens was first confirmed over a week ago.
"The government has banned the smuggling of chicken to city markets from affected areas," said state animal resources minister Anisur Rahaman in Kolkata, which has 13.2 million people, many of whom live in congested slums.
"All we can do is keep a watch on the markets," he said.
Officials at entry points to Kolkata were disinfecting cars and other vehicles making their way into the city.
India has not so far had any human cases of bird flu. But Rahaman said he feared the disease would spread to humans with hundreds of people reporting flu symptoms and children "playing with chickens."
The outbreak was first reported in the village of Margram, 240 kilometres from Kolkata, the capital of the state, which is in the east of the country.
Elsewhere in West Bengal, party workers in the Marxist-ruled state were set to join vets and doctors in a bid to ramp up the culling of hundreds of thousands more chickens after two days of rains slowed operations.
The state says it needs to reach its target of 2.2 million birds by the end of the week as health authorities seek to control India's third and by far worst outbreak of the disease.
"The rain is greatly delaying the culling," said Rahaman.
"I hope the rains will cease later in the day and we can return to culling on a war footing. We're involving more teams to reach our target in the next three days."
Two days of unseasonal rains have turned many rural dirt roads into mud rivers, making it impossible for health teams to reach farms.
Nearly one million chickens have already been slaughtered since the beginning of the outbreak but some villagers have complained that culling teams were leaving the carcasses on the side of the road to rot.
Humans typically catch the disease by coming into direct contact with infected poultry, but experts fear the deadly H5N1 strain of the virus may mutate into a form easily transmissible between people.
Migratory birds have been largely blamed for the global spread of the disease, which has killed more than 200 people worldwide since 2003.