How prepared is Delhi for a bird flu outbreak?

Published: October 28, 2016 - 18:28 Updated: August 10, 2017 - 15:12

The government administration seems to be dozing while cases of bird flu are popping up on the radar

Delhi once again seems to be in the grasp of bird flu, another viral disease which has been a common occurrence in the capital city over the years. Death of over 60 birds have been reported from all over the city, and H5N8 virus has been confirmed to be the cause of deaths by medical reports. Meanwhile, the government claims to have a control over the situation seems to be a far fetched notion. The control-rooms setup by the government are not fully functioning. Two numbers issued by the ministry 011-23384190 and 09448324121 are not being picked up, despite repeated calls by Hardnews correspondent to get in touch with the control room there was no reply from the other side. Adding to it, the nodal officer appointed by the government Dr HK Manilappa, JC, Animal Husbandry Department seemed unaware of the fact that the Avian Influenza has been a common occurrence throughout the country since 2005. Talking to Hardnews he said that, “bird flu is not a regular thing and it has taken place for the first time in the state and the country.”

Meanwhile, government is experiencing delays in getting the sample reports of dead birds from the two laboratories based out of Bhopal and Jalandhar. Delhi’s Animal Husbandry minister Gopal Rai has written to Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh to speed up the process. A high level committee has been formed by the center to look into the appearing cases and coordinate with state governments in the wake of major outburst. Center has issued advisory to all state government to minimise human-bird interaction so as to reduce the effects.

A decade long history

India has had a long history of outbreaks of bird flu in the last decade. The first such outbreak was reported in 2005 in Gujarat, followed by Madhya Pradesh in 2006. The third pathogenic epidemic took place in 2007 in Imphal where over 3 lakh birds were killed to curb the spread out. The fourth wave originated in West Bengal in 2008 which took the lives of over 42 lakh birds, this was followed by a second outburst in the same year in the state of  Tripura. After the containment of the disease and culling of over 18 lakh birds in the state, India declared itself Avian Influenza free. However, within a short span of just 30 days it was again rampant in the state of Assam.

The recent such bird epidemics took place in 2015 with Telangana as the epicenter contaminating over 51,000 birds. The flu then got transmitted to the areas of Amethi where 350 birds mostly migratory died in mysterious conditions. Meanwhile, a 2013 outbreak from purnia of Bihar resulted in death of over 60,000 birds. During 2011-12 outbreak Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) was detected in crows in the states of Maharashtra, Jharkhand, UP, Jammu & Kashmir, Gujarat and Rajasthan.

Spreading out of the virus

The Avian Influenza virus is transmitted from infected birds through flu virus in their saliva, nasal secretions, and feces. Susceptible birds then get infected by coming in contact with the contaminated excretions. Meanwhile, there are no such evidence denoting human-to-human transmission, humans encounter HPAI by consuming infected poultry products.   

While the Delhi government has ruled out any threat to the human beings, it has, however, resulted in shutting down of the famous Deer Park, Hauz Khas District Park and Shakti Sthal at Raj Ghat. Officials in the Department of Animal Husbandry said that the major symptoms of bird flu are severe respiratory disease in the form of pneumonia or Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), sudden onset of cough, cold and high fever. On getting aggravated it could also lead to multi-organ failure, and acute kidney injury.

Economic Impacts

India is one of the biggest producers of poultry products in the world, the economic survey presented by the Union Finance Minister in Parliament estimated the annual production of eggs at 78.48 billion while poultry meat production was at 3.04 MT. An outbreak of Bird flu has a huge negative impact on the poultry business in the country, the effects extend not only to farmers, but to poultry traders, feed mills and breeding farms as well. There are indirect effects resulting in demand shifts from measures adopted to contain the spread of disease, such as bans on exports and imports of chicken and eggs to affected countries and states. Apart from these, there are costs of prevention and control, which include costs incurred by the government for the purchase of poultry vaccines, medications and other inputs, and hiring workers for culling, clean up. Governments is also faced with the need to compensate poultry owners for the loss incurred by them due to culling of the chicken and birds.