Bird flu devastates poultry in western India

Health workers today planned to complete a massive slaughter of chickens in western India aimed at containing an outbreak of the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus.

More than half a million birds have been killed in the Navapur district since the virus was found in samples from 30,000 dead chickens. The government plans to cull a total of 700,000 birds within a 1.5-mile radius of the outbreak in the state of Maharashtra.

But while the culling may have stopped the spread of the virus, local farmers were distraught over their losses and wondering how they would survive.

“It is a question of livelihood for 5,000 families,” said Ghulam Vhora, a member of a Navapur poultry farmers’ association.

“We are all jobless,” said Vhora, whose 30,000 birds were killed.

Yesterday, Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh ordered 48 poultry farms around Navapur, more than 250 miles north-east of Mumbai, to be emptied and said they would remain shut for three months.

The government has offered farmers some compensation per bird, but the farmers say this is not enough to make up for their losses and a long period of closure for the farms, which are a major source of eggs in the region.

“This is totally inadequate,” said Vhora.

“This should be treated as a national calamity, like an earthquake, and the government should act in the same way,” he said.

Yesterday, inspectors visited homes and farms surrounding Navapur, a town of 30,000 people, searching for signs of illness and making sure even chickens being raised at private homes were killed and properly disposed of.

Checkpoints have also been set up to stop people carrying poultry out of the area.

Plumes of smoke filled the air as farmers burned dead birds. Large pits were dug for the rest of the chicken carcasses, which were then sprayed with chemical disinfectants.

Samples from at least eight people in hospital with flu-like symptoms near Navapur were also being tested at the National Institute of Virology.

The H5N1 virus has devastated poultry stocks and killed at least 91 people, mostly in Asia, since 2003, according to the World Health Organisation. Most human cases of the disease have been linked to contact with infected birds. But scientists fear the virus could mutate into a form that is easily transmitted between humans, sparking a pandemic.

India’s neighbours, including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka have all banned the import of poultry or eggs from India in recent days.

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