H5N1 strikes poultry in India again

Jan 15, 2008 (CIDRAP News) – A state agriculture minister in India today confirmed that a disease outbreak involving 35,000 recent poultry deaths in West Bengal state was caused by the highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza virus.

Anisur Rahaman, West Bengal's minister for animal resources, told Reuters, "The outbreak is of the deadly H5N1 strain and it has been confirmed to us in a central government notification today."

Over the past few weeks, large numbers of chicken and other poultry deaths have been reported in and around the village of Margram in West Bengal's Birbhum district, according to the Reuters report. Rahaman told the news service that a second outbreak was detected in West Bengal's South Dinajpur district but said the sites are not adjacent.

Naresh Dayal, India's health secretary, told Reuters that medical teams have been dispatched to the area, that residents would be monitored for flulike symptoms, and that the government had adequate stockpiles of the antiviral drug osteltamivir.

Officials said culling operations affecting about 400,000 birds within a 3-kilometer radius of the outbreak areas would begin tomorrow, Reuters reported.

Authorities have sealed off one stretch of West Bengal's border with Bangladesh, according to Reuters. Bangladesh is also battling H5N1 outbreaks.

India's last H5N1 outbreak in poultry occurred in July 2007 among chickens at a poultry farm in the country's remote northeastern state of Manipur, near the border with Myanmar, according to previous reports. India has reported no human H5N1 cases.

Meanwhile, animal health officials in Bangladesh said on Jan 13 that the H5N1 virus had struck a poultry farm in the northeast. The outbreak killed 500 chickens at the farm in Moulavibazar district, about 155 miles from Dhaka, the capital, according to a Jan 13 Reuters report. About 800 chickens, ducks, and other birds were culled within 1 kilometer of the outbreak site, the report said.

The country's first H5N1 outbreak was recorded in March 2007, according to previous reports. Since then, outbreaks have occurred mainly around Dhaka and in the north.

In Vietnam, government officials announced that the H5N1 virus struck a flock of ducks in Thai Nguyen province in the northern part of the country, according to a Jan 11 Thanh Nien News report. On Jan 3 officials said another outbreak in the same province had also affected a duck flock, according to previous reports.

In other developments, animal health experts in England have determined that the H5N1 virus strain that infected three swans at a tourist destination in Dorset County on the country's southwest coast is similar to one that was confirmed in the Czech Republic, Romania, and Poland in 2007, according to a statement today from Hilary Benn, secretary of the United Kingdom Department of Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

Benn said the H5N1 strain found in the swans is also similar to the one that caused outbreaks in November among turkeys at two Redgrave Farms sites in Suffolk.

Animal health officials are conducting further tests on a few more dead mute swans at the Dorset County outbreak site, but so far all have tested negative, the UK Press Association reported on Jan 13.

Earlier reports said the three infected swans were tested after they were found dead, but today's DEFRA statement said reports suggest that two of the swans were still alive when found and were euthanized because they were injured and in poor condition.

John Houston, general manager at Abbotsbury Swannery, told the Press Association that the number of dead swans at the site is lower than normal because of warmer-than-usual winter weather.

See also:

Jul 25, 2007, CIDRAP News story "India finds H5N1 in poultry after 1-year hiatus"

Jan 15 DEFRA statement

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