India Faces Bird Flu Situation amid Declining COVID-19 Cases

Around 25,000 birds have died due to different types of bird flu across India. Cases have been recorded in states such as Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Haryana. This has forced the Central government to release alerts to the states to keep a check on the health of birds in forest areas and near water bodies.

The bird flu situation has emerged in the country, at a time when the pandemic situation is getting better.  On Tuesday, India registered 16,375 new cases of Covid-19, 29,091 recoveries, and 201 deaths. India’s active Covid-19 cases are steadily falling which has resulted in a decline in the overall burden on the health delivery structure, Union health secretary Rajesh Bhushan said on Tuesday.

He also stated that 44 percent of active cases are in hospital with moderate to severe symptoms while 56 percent of cases are very mild or asymptomatic and are in home isolation.

Situation in Madhya Pradesh

A bird flu alert has been rolled out in Madhya Pradesh due to the sudden death of crows in big numbers in western parts of the state, consisting of Indore. The testing of samples taken from dead crow at the National Institute of High-Security Animal Diseases (NIHSAD) has disclosed the presence of the H5N8, which is avian influenza causing virus, in some samples from Indore and Mandsaur.

According to Animal Husbandry department sources, sudden deaths of around 376 crows have been reported from parts of western Madhya Pradesh, including 142 in Indore, 100 in Mandsaur, 112 in Agar-Malwa, 13 in Khargone, and 9 in Sehore.

Sources stated that in some dead crows found in Indore and Mandsaur, which neighbors Rajasthan, H5N8 has been spotted. Samples of dead crows are being sent to NIHSAD-Bhopal.

Actions Taken

A special control room has been established in Indore and teams are taking rapid response action into sudden deaths of crows. Animal husbandry department officials in every district have been directed to quickly report sudden deaths of crows as well their control and culling to the state government in synchronization with the district administration and other related departments.

Directions have been released for special monitoring of poultry farms, markets, ponds, and reservoirs. Officials have been asked to send the collected samples for prompt testing samples of migratory birds at lakes and reservoirs.

The health department has been asked to provide all help and safety equipment, consisting of PPE kits, anti-retroviral drugs, and disinfectants to the staff employed in the monitoring of the birds and culling and disposal of dead crows.

In Indore, where most of the crows have succumbed, i.e. death of 142 crows has been reported. At least two samples have been found to be infected by the H5N8 virus. The health department, which is already struggling and fighting against the COVID-19 virus in Indore, has now started door-to-door medical check-up of people living in areas where the crows have been found dead.

Migratory Birds could be the Reason

So far more than 14,000 have been checked by teams of doctors, out of which around 20 residents have been found with symptoms of common cold and cough.

This grim news has surfaced just a month before India is set to observe a second migration period.

The Union ministry of fisheries, animal husbandry, and dairying on Wednesday highlighted the possibility that migratory birds could be a cause for the spread of flu which has triggered an alarm in the north, central, and southern India. According to the ministry, “In India, the disease spreads mainly by migratory birds coming into India during winter months i.e. from September-October to February-March. The secondary spread by human handling (through fomites) cannot be ruled out.”

So far, avian influenza has been registered from 12 epicenters of four states – Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, and Kerala – after confirmation of positive samples from ICAR-NIHSAD.

The four epicenters include:

  • Madhya Pradesh (crow) – Mandsaur, Indore, Malwa
  • Rajasthan (crow) – Baran, Kota, Jhalawar
  • Kerala (poultry-duck) – Kottayam, Allapuzha
  • Himachal Pradesh (migratory birds) – Kangra

Vigil Observation is Required

The government has acted quickly to curb the outbreak and avoid further spread by urging states to improve the biosecurity of poultry farms, thoroughly disinfect the affected areas, and asked for proper disposal of dead birds and carcasses.

The animal husbandry ministry has also requested the states for periodic collection and submission of samples for confirmation and further surveillance and sharpening of surveillance plan.

To avoid disease transmission from affected birds to poultry and humans, the ministry has requested the states to follow the general prevention guidelines.

“Coordination with the forest department for reporting any unusual mortality of birds was also suggested to the States. The other states were also requested to keep a vigil on any unusual mortality amongst birds and to report immediately to take necessary measures,” the ministry explained in a statement.

A control room has also been established in New Delhi to keep a keen observation of the situation and to make an overall assessment on a daily basis of preventive and control measures undertaken by state authorities.