Editorial

Bird flu and what we must do

Several subtypes and strains of avian influenza viruses are now found around the world, some of them capable of causing death among humans and others inflicting serious losses on poultry farmers. The latest bird flu scare in New Delhi and elsewhere has been triggered by the death of some free living birds in the city’s A.N. Jha Deer Park, and 15 painted storks in the Gwalior zoo. Worrying as it is, early detection and identification of the virus subtypes helps in launching containment measures. As a major agricultural nation with a large poultry industry, India has implemented an action plan formulated by the Centre’s Department of Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries to deal with avian influenza. It incorporates a clear protocol for preventive checks and testing, for reporting an outbreak, removing farmed birds from an affected area and compensating farmers. The outbreaks in Kerala and Karnataka over the past two years have tested the efficacy of the intervention strategy. It came as a relief when on September 5 India declared itself free of the H5N1 virus, identified by the World Health Organisation as the animal influenza virus of greatest concern for human health. Considering that the virus is endemic in parts of Asia and mutates quickly, the need for vigilant monitoring against its reintroduction and spread cannot be overstated.

The Delhi government’s finding that the virus associated with the bird deaths in the capital is the H5N8 type hints at the possible role of migratory water fowl, which are known to carry this virus to wintering grounds. Zoos across the country are at risk, since they often have waterbodies within or nearby, attracting winter visitors. A more recent cause for concern has been the virus strain H7N9 that caused serious illness in people mostly in China, but not in birds. On the positive side, the national plan to combat avian influenza relies on a broad-based periodic testing system for farmed birds and wet markets, and upgrading of apex scientific institutions such as the National Institute of High Security Animal Diseases, Bhopal. The efficacy of the measures naturally depends on the alacrity with which the animal husbandry apparatus at the State level collects samples and sounds the alarm when a disease outbreak is imminent. There is a case to tighten the functioning of this machinery, given the impact on people and agriculture, and for a national-level report to be published each year. Border regions that trade in live poultry have a particularly important responsibility to look out for sick birds. Public health messaging, with advice on poultry consumption during a suspected outbreak, is essential to quell any rumours.

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Printable version | Mar 31, 2020 2:00:26 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/Bird-flu-and-what-we-must-do/article16080553.ece

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