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Bird Flu Outbreak: Over 15,000 Poultry Killed in Single Day; Maharashtra Districts on High Alert

Even as the state continues to deal with the fallout of Covid-19 pandemic, another viral disease has threatened to make matters worse.

Ayushi Raina
300 poultry birds and nine ducks died of avian flu in Shahapur, Thane last week
300 poultry birds and nine ducks died of avian flu in Shahapur, Thane last week

Even as the state deals with the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, another viral disease threatens to exacerbate the situation. The state has reported cases of avian influenza, often known as bird flu, prompting authorities to put all districts on high alert for any suspicious bird deaths.

Avian influenza is a highly infectious viral disease that affects both domestic and wild birds.

The animal husbandry department killed over 15,000 birds at various poultry farms in Thane overnight after 300 poultry birds and nine ducks died of avian flu in Shahapur, Thane last week.

The tissue samples were transferred to Bhopal's National Institute of High Security Animal Diseases Laboratory, which confirmed on February 16 that the birds tested positive for the H5N1 strain of bird flu.

Thane District Collectorate formed swift response teams, who began culling overnight and finished by 7:30 a.m. on Friday. The department completed the culling operation within 1 km from the epicenter at Velholi in Shahapur.

There is no need to panic, according to officials, because no comparable incident has been reported in the rest of the district.

“As soon as we received reports that the deaths were caused by bird flu, we commenced culling operations, and the situation is now under control.

We are taking all necessary precautions and measures to ensure that the flu does not spread further," said Rajesh Narvekar, Thane District Collector.

In the infected zone, a total of 23,428 birds were culled and 1603 eggs, 3,800 kg poultry feed and 100 kg shell grit were destroyed.

Sachindra Pratap Singh, Commissioner of Animal Husbandry, has directed field units to be on the alert for any suspicious bird fatalities. District, forest and irrigation officials have also been urged to report such instances in forests, reservoirs and dams.

"All districts have been put on high alert to look for any suspicious bird fatalities. We've asked poultry owners to report any suspicious fatalities to local veterinary authorities," Singh said, adding that the outbreak was most likely a localized phenomenon.

Sunil Kedar, Minister of Animal Husbandry and Dairy Development, stated that the SOPs were being followed as soon as the pandemic was confirmed. “There is a compensation package in place (for poultry farmers whose birds will have to be culled),” he added.

Meanwhile, regulators have urged chicken and egg consumers to thoroughly cook these poultry products before consuming them. They also stated that while cases of animal-to-human transmission of this zoonotic disease were rare, but possible.

A human case of avian influenza was reported in July 2021 when an 18-year-old male in Haryana tested positive for the disease, making it India's first recorded instance of human infection.

According to officials from the animal husbandry commissionerate, the avian influenza outbreak in January 2021 resulted in the culling of over 10 lakh birds, with nearly 73 epicenters being notified across 20 districts.

In Maharashtra, there are around 112 organized poultry farms and an estimated 11,000 unorganized poultry farms, with farmers preferring to rear indigenous or local breeds of free-range chicken and broilers in their backyards to augment their incomes. The daily production of eggs stands at an average of around 1.25 lakh.

According to the 2019 livestock census, Maharashtra has a poultry population of 742.98 lakh. Except for some portions of Vidarbha and Marathwada, which source their eggs from neighboring Telangana, the state accounts for 5.77 percent of total egg production in India and is mainly self-sufficient.

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