Migratory birds or poultry farms? 

While Union and state ministers blame winged visitors, ornithologists say virus could have come from eggs or birds from other states, or from strain lying dormant in organisms in lake

Published: 07th January 2021 05:36 AM  |   Last Updated: 07th January 2021 05:36 AM   |  A+A-

The remains of the culled ducks being burnt in ward 14 of Neendoor panchayat in Kottayam on Wednesday

Express News Service

KOCHI: With the spread of bird flu causing concern in Alappuzha and Kottayam districts, ornithologists, environmentalists and researchers have stressed on the need to identify the source of infection. Union Minister for Animal Husbandry Giriraj Singh and Kerala Forest Minister K Raju have blamed the migratory birds for the outbreak, but ornithologists in Kerala have disputed the claim. 

Ornithologist R Sugathan, who sent around 2,000 samples of bird droppings collected from the nesting places of migratory birds in the kole wetlands of Thrissur, Kadamakudy and Thattekad bird sanctuary from October to December, says not one sample has tested positive for avian influenza.  “I visited areas from Irinjalakuda to Chellanam coast but could not find any bird with symptoms.

The infection has spread among farm ducklings in Kuttanad and Kumarakom area. The strain could have reached the state through the eggs or ducklings brought from other states. There is a possibility of the virus remaining dormant in some organisms in the Vembanad lake and becoming active in favourable conditions. The government should initiate steps to conduct a study in this regard,” he said. 

Culling progressing at South Karuvatta of Upper
Kuttanad in Alappuzha on Wednesday. Around
20,000 ducks were culled in the panchayat.
The exercise will be completed by Thursday|
Albin Mathew

The state had witnessed bird flu outbreaks in 2014 and 2016 and the infection spread during the months of November and December when migratory birds flock to the state. However, the disease spread was reported among domestic birds. 

The strain reported in Himachal Pradesh where 2,300 migratory birds were found dead was H5N1, while the strain found in Kerala was H5N8. However, the bar-headed geese, which was found dead in Himachal, was sighted in Thrissur, Changaram in Alappuzha and Chellanam in Ernakulam recently, said bird watcher Anu.

“We have issued instructions to all field officers in the state to report mass death of wild birds, including migratory birds, to the animal husbandry department and collect samples,” said chief wildlife warden Surendrakumar.“Controlling the spread of disease among domestic birds is easy as we can isolate or cull them. But if it spreads to wild birds, it will be difficult to control,” said Sugathan. 

“The outbreak in 2014 and 2016 was also among domestic birds. No mass death of migratory birds was reported during that time. However, the disease spread during November-December period, when migratory birds flock to the state, needs to be studied,” said Kerala Veterinary and Animal Sciences University assistant professor Chintu Ravishankar.

What minister said
Animal Husbandry Minister K Raju has said the avian influenza spread in Kuttanad region of the state from migratory birds. He was addressing a meeting held at the collectorate here to review the culling of the infected birds on Wednesday. He directed the forest and wildlife department officials to check whether any migratory bird has died in the state. 

‘It is Safe to eat poultry products’ 
: Though the state government has sounded an alert after bird flu cases were reported in Alappuzha and Kottayam districts, poultry products are safe to eat if cooked thoroughly, said animal husbandry department in a statement. Hands should be washed and sanitised after handling raw meat or egg.

Central team to visit affected areas today
A two-member Central delegation will visit the bird flu-hit areas in Alappuzha and Kottayam on Thursday to take stock of the situation. They will also hold a meeting with animal husbandry department officials and meet respective district collectors.

“Further, officials will keep a tab on the hotspots and over a radius up to 10km from the disease-hit areas for about 10 days. This would be followed by continuous testing of samples for about two weeks. The declaration of bird flu-free area would be made only after two week-long constant virus negative results in the collected samples,” said Dr Hari Kumar, additional secretary, Animal Husbandry Department.  

Meanwhile, the cabinet meeting held on Wednesday decided to pay compensation to the poultry farmers affected by the avian flu attack.


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