Bird flu concern spreads as crows, cranes found dead in Kerala's Alappuzha district

Around 25 crows were found dead in in Muhamma panchayat of Alappuzha district two days ago and a few cranes in the Cherthala area.
Bird flu concern spreads as crows, cranes found dead in Kerala's Alappuzha district

ALAPPUZHA : Amid the spread of Avian Influenza— popularly known as bird flu— among domestic birds in three districts, the death of crows, cranes, and a hawk in Alappuzha district is causing concern.

Experts have warned that the spread of the disease to wild birds can pose a threat to humans, particularly in the backdrop of the infection confirmed in a four-year-old child in West Bengal.

Around 25 crows were found dead in in Muhamma panchayat of Alappuzha district two days ago and a few cranes in the Cherthala area. On Saturday, the carcass of a hawk was found in the district. The samples have been sent to the National Institute of High-Security Animal Disease (NIHSAD), Bhopal for testing.

According to the animal husbandry department (AHD), 29,589 birds were found dead at 19 places spread over the districts of Alappuzha, Pathanamthitta and Kottayam during the past two-and-a-half months. The outbreak was reported in the state on April 16, 2024. As part of the efforts to contain the outbreak, the department has culled 1,09,250 domestic birds, including ducks, broiler chicken and quails. Besides, 14,732 eggs and 15,221 kg of poultry feed were destroyed.

“The spread of bird flu is a cause for concern, and we have taken steps to contain the disease. The spread of the disease to wild birds like crows is worrying. According to reports, the virus is spread by migratory birds. We have formed a team of experts to study the cause for the spread of the disease and recommend ways to contain it,” Minister for Animal Husbandry J Chinchurani told TNIE.

Avian Influenza threat

  • 19 places in Alappuzha, Kottayam, P’Thitta districts

  • Outbreak reported on April 16, 2024

Efforts to contain spread

  • 29,589 bird deaths reported

  • 1,09,250 domestic birds culled

  • 14,732 eggs destroyed

  • 15,221 kg of poultry feed destroyed.

Call for study to identify source of bird flu outbreak

“The team consists of experts from the Kerala Veterinary and Animal Sciences University, State Institute for Animal Diseases, and the Avian Disease Diagnostic Laboratory. The report is expected to be submitted in two weeks,” she said.

However, Ornithologist R Sugathan has disputed the claim of AHD that the Avian Influenza is spread by migratory birds.

“The bird flu was first reported in the state in 2014, and it has been reported almost every year since then. While working at Thattekad, I had collected more than 3,000 samples of bird droppings and saliva which were sent to Bhopal laboratory for testing. Not a single sample tested positive. I suspect the virus spreading through domestic bird species,” he said.

“The virus may be remaining dormant in some native bird species and becoming active when the conditions become favourable. The migratory birds arrive by October and leave by March every year. If the outbreak is caused by migratory birds, it should start at least in December. The government should initiate a study to identify the source of the outbreak,” said Sugathan.

Pookode Veterinary and Animal Sciences College professor Chintu Ravishankar had conducted a study on the spread of Avian Influenza a few years ago, collecting samples from around 600 migratory birds from Kannur to Thiruvananthapuram. However, the presence of virus was not found in the samples.

According to AHD Alappuzha district officer Joy Francis, this is the first time the disease has been confirmed in wild birds.

“The death of cranes and hawks in various places in the Cherthala taluk is alarming. The department cannot cull the crows as they live in the wild, posing challenges in preventing the disease from spreading. People should stop the practice of throwing waste in public places to prevent the disease from spreading,” he said.

Health department issues guidelines

Health Minister Veena George said the department has issued special guidelines (SOP) and technical guidelines regarding bird flu in the state. The guidelines were issued as per the decision of the State Rapid Response Team (RRT) headed by the minister.

Guidelines to be followed by farmers, poultry breeders and related persons have been issued. Those who arrive at hospitals with symptoms like severe body pain, fever, cough and breathlessness will be specially monitored. Veena said social awareness will be created and preventive measures will be taken under the leadership of trained One Health community volunteers in Alappuzha, Pathanamthitta and Kottayam districts.

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