The central government on Wednesday said it will send top virologists to Haryana and Kerala to help the states contain the spread of avian influenza, commonly known as bird flu, as the infection poses a fresh challenge before the country that is already struggling to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic.
The health ministry said multi-disciplinary teams will be deployed to Alappuzha and Kottayam districts in Kerala, and Panchkula district in Haryana after the animal husbandry department confirmed the detection of the H5N8 variant of bird flu in samples.
While the infection has not yet been reported in humans in India, the disease is zoonotic, and the secondary spread by human handling (through fomites) cannot be ruled out, the ministry said. The government has also launched a drive to identify those with suspected flu symptoms in the affected areas.
Experts from National Centre for Disease Control, National Institute of Virology, PGIMER, Chandigarh, Dr. RML Hospital and Lady Hardinge Medical College will be sent to the two states. A control room has also been set up in New Delhi to keep watch on the situation and take stock on a daily basis of preventive and control measures undertaken by state authorities.
The government said reports of avian influenza have also been reported from Jhalawar, Rajasthan and Bhind, Madhya Pradesh involving crows and migratory birds, and the department of animal husbandry has issued alerts to further intensify surveillance to detect any case in poultry birds.
Cases of bird deaths due to the virus have so far been detected in Rajasthan, Kerala, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, and the government has identified 12 epicentres after the positive samples in four states: Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Kerala. Samples sent for testing from Panchkula in Haryana were found to be inconclusive and will be tested again.
The ongoing outbreak has been reported from Baran, Kota and Jhalawar in Rajasthan; Mandsaur, Indore and Malwa in MP, Kangra in Himachal Pradesh; and Kottayam, and Allapuzha in Kerala.
The highly contagious viral disease, caused by Influenza Type A viruses, poses the risk of becoming the next global scare as widespread cases have also been reported from Europe and Eastern Asia. There are many strains of the virus and the one spreading is said to affect only birds, for now.
To prevent the disease transmission from affected birds to poultry and humans, the ministry has asked states to follow the general prevention guidelines.
The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change had on Tuesday also directed all state wildlife departments to take serious note of avian flu cases and report mortality of wildlife to the ministry on priority.