Migratory birds bearer of avian flu to Assam; culling on

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Guwahati, Nov 29 (UNI) Thousands of birds are being culled daily at Hajo near the Assam capital after a bird flu outbreak was confirmed, with migratory birds suspected to have carried the virus.

''Culling is on, though remoteness of areas and resistance by owners, was posing difficulties in further expediting the process,'' state Veterinary department director Dr A K Kotoky said.

He added that about 37,000 ducks and chickens have been targeted to be culled, with 12,000 already been slaughtered till yesterday.

Samples sent to Bhopal and Pune laboratories, after unnatural death of birds were reported since last week. They had tested positive for H5N1 strain, confirming the first outbreak of bird flu in the state.

The director informed that all district deputy commissioners had been alerted to keep a watch on any possible mass death of poultry and report immediately in the wake of any eventuality.

Preventive culling was undertaken in the state last year when bird flu was detected, with the virus reported in poultry in North Bengal.

Dr Kotoky said migratory birds, who arrive in small numbers to roost in water bodies at Hajo, could have been the bearers of the virus.

He added that no fresh outbreak had been reported and all precautions were being taken to ensure that it did not spread further. The Kamrup (rural) district authorities have imposed a ban on sale of poultry and sounded a general alert in about 40 villages in a radius of five kilometers from the area where the deaths were reported.

The country has not reported any human infections so far, though the first outbreak in the poultry disease was reported in 2006 in Maharashtra.

Experts fear that the H5N1 strain could mutate into a form easily transmitted from person to person, leading to an epidemic.

After the last outbreak reported in Darjeeling in West Bengal in May, there were no further reports, prompting the Centre to declare the country free of avian flu. Between January and May this year, 42 incidents of bird flu were reported from West Bengal and Tripura.

Though the last reported case in Darjeeling was disinfected on June 4, the country was not declared flu-free due to a sporadic incident of outbreak in Manipur in July.

UNI SG DBY DPM ARB AS1515

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