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Poultry Industry’s Dilemma:BIRD FLU SPECTRE REFUSES TO DIE, 2 August 2006 Print E-mail


New Delhi, 2 August 2006

Poultry Industry’s Dilemma


By Radhakrishna Rao

In view of the much-dreaded bird flu hitting Thailand, India has shown its reluctance in sharing its container facilities with its neighbours even as it has okayed a plan for cooperation with ten other Asian countries in the war against this disease transmitted by the domesticated birds. Clearly and apparently, wary of the poor standards of container packing and handling in the SAARC countries, India has decided to join hands with ten other Asian countries—China, Thailand, Indonesia Afghanistan, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar, Maldives and Sri Lanka,--to further strengthen regional and international collaboration on all aspects of bird flu also known as avian influenza including investigation of causes and outbreaks and efforts at further research.

In fact, against the backdrop of the revelation by Thailand’s Agriculture Ministry that a strain of bird flu has been found in chickens and it could be deadly H5NI virus, which had caused panic in India’s thriving poultry belt in Maharashtra in February this year, concern over the possibility of this virulent virus crossing the borders is mounting in many Asian countries. As a precautionary measure, hundreds of thousands of chickens have been culled in Thailand where H5NI virus had killed many people since it first appeared in the country in 2003.

But as things stand now, a fairly good amount of knowledge has been gathered about this tricky pathogen, that first   hit China in 1997  and has been spreading its influence around the world since 2003.The only saving grace is that the H5NI virus has not yet become vicious enough to make it fit for human to human transmission. However, in domesticated birds, it is highly lethal ad contagious.

Because this viral strain spreads with such an amazing rapidity, only immediate and large scale culling of domesticated birds is considered the best preventive measure. As it is,  medical researchers are concerned that  in the long run H5Ni virus could  acquire “genetic strength”  to facilitate its spread from humans to humans .Bird flu causes symptoms similar to human flu such as high fever, cough, sore throat, muscular pain, conjuctivitis and pneumonia. Bird flu has killed many people in Asia and Europe since 1993.

One disquieting feature of Bird flu is that it is rather difficult to provide full protection against the disease through vaccination. For no one knows for sure as to what shape this virus would assume after mutation. As such, researchers are now suggesting vaccinating people against the existing H5NI viral strain. And in a major breakthrough in the war against avian flu, the New Delhi-based Indian Council of  Agricultural Research(ICAR) has announced the development of a vaccine against this deadly disease. The production of this vaccine developed by the scientists of the Bhopal based High Security Animal Disease Laboratory(HSADL) has already been initiated. In the ultimate analysis, it is planned to create a stockpile of 3-4 lakh doses of this vaccine.

“Viral disease such as avian influenza does not recognize boundaries. The development of an indigenous vaccine would go a long way towards tackling the  threat of this disease effectively” says ICAR Director General  Mangat Rai .HSADL is the only facility in the country capable of conducting tests for H5NI.Till now India was importing the bird flu vaccine.

It has been observed that H5NI virus flourishes and causes fatalities in areas where human beings are  in close contact with  domesticated birds such as chickens and fowls .On its part, the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization(FAO) has made it clear that  properly cooked poultry and eggs are safe to consume. As a precautionary measure partially cooked poultry and  raw eggs need to be avoided. For eggs can carry H5NI virus both on the outside and  the inside .”People need to be informed about the importance of basic hygiene, notably washing hands after touching poultry and disinfecting boots or shoes before entering or leaving a poultry farm” says Juan Lubroth of FAO.

Surprisingly, human cases have occurred among high risk groups such  as poultry workers, cullers, veterinarians and health staff. The World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that slaughtering infected birds could  put people at risk of getting infected by the virus. As such WH has highlighted the need to intensify awareness among people through all media channels as at present only a miniscule proportion of the global population is aware of the dangers of bird flue and its symptoms and fall outs. Indeed, the WHO has confirmed that   H5NI virus , if unchecked, could mutate into a malignant global pandemic that could kill anywhere between five and one fifty million people across the world.

In February last, the report of bird flu based on the death of 36,000 chicks in Maharastra’s Nadurbar district known for its flourishing poultry industry resulted in a massive decline in the consumption of poultry products including eggs . This first-ever case of bird  flu in India  had also resulted in the hospitalization of eight people  for the possible symptoms of bird flu.As it is, tests carried out at HSADL confirmed the  presence of  virus in infected  chicken samples collected from the poultry belt of Maharashtra.

In fact, the announcement of the arrival of bird flu led widespread panic among consumers and poultry industry in the country. Of course, India, world’s sixth largest poultry producer, has long been on alert about the possibility of virus  entering the country from other parts of Asia .Tamiflu considered effective  against bird  flu was stocked in sufficient quantities. If taken within a couple of days of the onset of illness, Tamiflu can ease severity of some symptoms and reduce the duration of sickness.

The panic triggered off by the bird flu highlighted by the culling of hundreds of thousands of chickens in the poultry belt of Maharashtra did cause huge losses to the Indian poultry industry worth about Rs.29,000-crores. India is the fifth largest producer of eggs and ninth largest producer of broilers. Indian poultry products are exported   to Middle East, Europe, Africa and Far East .With the Indian Railways and various airlines in India along with a large number of hotels and restaurants refusing to serve egg and chicken preparations—in the wake of the February outbreak of the avian flu—the poultry industry in the country went through a bad time. What is more, many importing countries refused to lift poultry products from India.

Right at the moment, the Indian poultry industry is in good shape with the spectre of bird flu no more bothering it, But then the media reports of the outbreak of bird flue in Thailand should drive it towards initiating steps for obviating the recurrence of the February-like situation .For the Indian poultry industry which provides direct and indirect employment to at least one hundred million  people is a major contributor to the national economy.---INFA

 (Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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