December 15, 2008

India battles bird flu as farmers resist cull

Officials fighting the spread of bird flu in northeast India stepped up surveillance on Saturday (December 13) as poultry farmers resisted the slaughter of chickens in affected areas, a minister said.


Veterinary experts from New Delhi visited affected areas in Assam state to supervise the culling exercise and brief local officials on how to check the spread of the infection, the government said.


More than 250,000 poultry have been slaughtered so far and an estimated 150,000 more have been ordered to be killed.


But officials were facing difficulties as farmers were unwilling to hand over their birds.


"We have increased the compensation from 50 rupees (about a dollar) to 90 rupees per chicken," local health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma told reporters.


Five teams of medical experts were also going door-to-door to look for people with symptoms of avian influenza after nearly 150 people developed some symptoms of the deadly H5N1 virus.


All the affected people have been treated and no human cases have been found so far, the minister said.


The virus has spread in the past two weeks across six Assam districts, where an estimated 300,000 people live in the affected areas.


The government was worried about the infection spreading to humans, as authorities may not be able to cope, minister Sarma said earlier this week.


The sale of poultry and poultry products has been banned in most parts of the state.


India reported its worst outbreak of bird flu early this year in the eastern state of West Bengal.


The World Health Organization says the H5N1 strain has killed nearly 250 people, mostly in Southeast Asia, since 2003.

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