The government has stepped up surveillance against avian influenza and Ranikhet disease in Kerala to prevent an outbreak of the dreaded poultry diseases.

The Department of Animal Husbandry has intensified vigil at border checkpoints following an outbreak of Ranikhet disease in a poultry farm at Andipatty in Theni district of Tamil Nadu.

Vigilance squads and rapid action teams have been deployed to inspect vehicles bringing poultry from across the border. Byroutes used by truck operators to smuggle poultry consignments into the State are also being closely monitored.

Animal Husbandry Director R. Vijayakumar told The Hindu that all poultry imports from other States were being physically verified for symptoms of the viral disease. “We have been maintaining a strict vigil in the border areas for the last two weeks, especially at the checkpoints in Idukki and Palakkad through which most of the animal and bird import takes place,” he said. The inspection teams have been directed to submit samples of chicken with suspected infection for biological examination.

Last week, acting on an order issued by the Health Department, officials had imposed a temporary embargo on chicken-laden vehicles at three checkpoints in Idukki district. This followed reports of attempts to push chicken from the infected areas into Kerala.

Dr. Vijayakumar said the outbreak of Ranikhet disease was confined to a private farm near Andipatti. “We came to know that the birds reared in that particular farm were not given periodic vaccination. The outbreak has since been brought under control. However, we are maintaining vigil as a precautionary measure,” he said.

Officials said no cases of avian influenza had been reported from Southern India so far. Though India was declared an avian flu-free country in 2009, precautionary measures mandated by the Central government still continue. In Orissa, where the disease was reported recently, authorities resorted to culling of all birds reared in a 10 km radius.

In Kerala, intensive surveillance of poultry farms and poultry movement across the border continues. The Department of Animal Husbandry has also stepped up the State-wide special vaccination drive against Ranikhet disease and duck plague. Volunteers are visiting households to administer the vaccines.