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Commending India’s control of bird flu outbreak, UN says vigilance still needed

Commending India’s control of bird flu outbreak, UN says vigilance still needed

The recent, worst-ever outbreak of the highly pathogenic avian influenza in the Indian state of West Bengal seems to have been brought under control by the swift and comprehensive measures taken by the country’s authorities, though continued vigilance was crucial, the United Nations agricultural agency said today.

“Intensive culling in the predominantly backyard poultry sector appears to have stopped the disease in its tracks,” Mohinder Oberoi, a veterinary expert of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said after a recent field trip to the affected areas, where no new outbreaks have been seen since 2 February.

FAO’s Chief Veterinary Officer Joseph Domenech, however, urged the country to maintain intensive surveillance in high-risk areas as the possibility of new occurrences remains high. “The virus could still be present in the environment despite heavy slaughtering and extensive disinfection of affected areas, or it could be reintroduced from other countries,” he said.

The FAO officials praised the national and state governments’ political and financial commitment to stamp out the disease. They said public awareness campaigns, a strong command chain from districts to villages, compensation payments and an effective collaboration between animal and human health departments at field level, have been the key factors for the success.

To achieve rapid control, prevent the spread of the virus to other states and to avoid the risk of human infection, the Indian Government had to cull over 3.9 million chickens and ducks, mainly belonging to poor backyard poultry farmers.

“Public awareness campaigns should continue over the next months introducing rural communities to safe poultry production and basic biosecurity measures with the ultimate goal of reducing the risk of human infections,” the agency said in a press release.

In addition, it recommended that the socio-economic impact of the control campaign be urgently assessed to better define and apply measures to mitigate the impact of massive culling on poor small holders. Live bird markets, migration of wild birds and transportation routes of birds and poultry products should be mapped to better understand and control the spread of the disease, it said.

FAO, in collaboration with the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), has also invited India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar to meet to better coordinate regional avian influenza control campaigns.

The Nepalese Government has agreed to host the meeting in Kathmandu, the agency said.