Indian state to kill 200,000 fowl in bird flu cull

By Biswajyoti Das

GUWAHATI, India (Reuters) - Indian authorities will slaughter 200,000 chickens in the northeast state of Assam in the next two days in a culling operation to tackle the threat of bird flu, officials said.

Health workers and bird flu experts were monitoring about 100 people who had shown signs of the virus.

The patients in six districts of Guwahati, oil- and tea-producing Assam’s main city, were suffering from fever and respiratory infections, symptoms of the H5N1 bird flu virus in humans. But officials have not confirmed any human cases of H5N1.

Health workers had gone house to house in Guwahati looking for more people with symptoms, officials said.

Veterinary officials have already killed almost 350,000 chickens and ducks, destroyed more than 160,000 eggs and thousands of kilograms of poultry feed in Guwahati since last month.

Culling is being expanded to include two villages in Meghalaya state close to Guwahati. The virus was detected in poultry in a village close to Guwahati last month.

Authorities have set a target of about 200,000 fowl to be killed in the region over the next two days.

“Though no cases of bird flu have been reported in Meghalaya, we are going ahead with culling as a preventative measure,” S.F. Khongwir, a senior official in Meghalaya, said.

Officials said some people had been defying orders to hand over their chickens and poultry products to culling teams and were hiding their birds and eggs.

A veterinary surgeon was arrested late on Saturday after police and veterinary officials raided his house and seized more than 2,500 chickens he had hidden there.

India’s health ministry has rushed three more ventilators to the area, taking the number to five, as well as other preventative measures in case the virus spreads to humans, including thousands of Tamiflu capsules and surgical masks.

While no human cases have been reported in India, experts fear the H5N1 virus might mutate or combine with the highly contagious seasonal influenza virus and spark a pandemic that could kill millions of people.

Since the virus resurfaced in Asia in 2003, it has killed more than 200 people in a dozen countries, the World Health Organization says.

The WHO described an outbreak of bird flu in neighboring West Bengal state last January, when more than 4 million birds were culled, as the worst ever in India.

(Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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