India to tackle bird flu on a war footing

Written by ASHOK B SHARMA | New Delhi, Jul 13 | Updated: Jul 14 2008, 06:36am hrs
India is finally gearing up to effectively deal with the bird flu menace, which had occurred thrice in the country since 2006 causing huge economic losses. A project is being proposed by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) to develop birds resistant to the dangerous avian flu virus, H5N1.

It has been noted that many species of indigenous poultry birds are resistant to bird flu virus. Exotic and crossbred birds are more vulnerable to the attacks of the bird flu virus. Therefore it is planned to segregate species of indigenous birds, which have a high degree of resistance.

"We need to study the genetic makeup of indigenous birds, which make them highly resistant to the deadly bird flu virus. After the resistant genes have been identified in the indigenous birds we can proceed to the empower the crossbred ones with the power of these genes," said the ICAR deputy director-general for animal sciences, KM Bujarbaruah.

There are plans to select an isolated and uninhabited island in the Andaman & Nicobar, where experiments on different species of indigenous birds collected from all over the country would be conducted to test their resistance power. The birds would be exposed to the bird flu virus and the scientists conducting the experiments would be well protected with masks and other equipment to prevent any exposure to the deadly virus. The birds, which survive, would be identified for a genetic study for isolation of the resistant genes. The area will also be sanitised after the experiment.

India has suffered the incidence of bird flu thrice since 2006. In 2005 there were reported cases of mass mortality of birds but the incidence was not officially reported as linked to bird flu. In early 2006, bird flu on poultry occurred in western parts of the country. In July 2007 bird flu occurred in Manipur, in the north-eastern part of the country. In 2006, the poultry industry suffered an estimated loss of Rs 30,000 million, while in 2007 it was Rs 6,700 million.

On January 15, 2008, bird flu was confirmed in the areas bordering Bangladesh, which rapidly spread to 13 districts of the state namely Birbhum, Dakshin Dinajpur, Nadia, North 24-Parganas, Murshidabad, Burdwan, Cooch Behar , Malda, Uttar Dinajpur, Howrah, Bankura, Hoogly, and Purulia. Bird flu did not reach Kolkata, though it reached the surrounding districts like North 24-Parganas, Burdwan, Howrah, and Hooghly.

Bird flu also reached Kurseong Block of Darjeeling district, which was confirmed on May 5, 2008 and the presence of bird flu was also confirmed in Bijanbari Block of the same district on May 16. Bird flu also spread to Tripura, which borders Bangladesh. Several experts are of the view that the 2008 incidence of bird flu in India was due to the virus entering through the Bangladesh border. India has already proposed that South Asian countries need to work in cooperation to effectively deal with the bird flu menace and the SAARC forum has begun working on it.