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H5N1 outbreak: Kashmir highly vulnerable, people asked to report bird deaths; docs advise against having poultry

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Srinagar: Jammu & Kashmir is highly vulnerable to bird flu, cases of which have been recently reported in Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Kerala.

Since Sunday, as many as 2,700 migratory birds, most of them bar-headed geese, have died mysteriously in Himachal Pradesh’s Pong Dam Lake. Samples taken confirmed the birds had died of avian influenza or bird flu also called H5N1 virus.

 

Following it, the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change issued a high alert on Tuesday stating that it was a matter of “serious concern”.

The Ministry asked all Chief Secretaries to take “urgent measures” considering the seriousness of the situation and the “possibility of spread of the disease to humans and other domesticated animals/birds”.

States and UTs have been asked to take up surveillance and monitoring of birds for any signs of the disease, report the same to the Ministry, and take appropriate measures for controlling it on priority.

In Kashmir, a similar advisory was issued by Wildlife Conservation Fund (WCF), which works in tandem with the J&K wildlife department.

“…(deaths) can occur in J&K too…We at Wildlife Conservation Fund request each and every one local citizen to be aware of this fact and take necessary measures at their own levels. These days the birds are migrating, so possibly the deaths may be reported in J&K too. Request everyone to report any case of sudden bird death occurring around,” the advisory from WCF read.

Nadeem Qadri, Executive Director, WCF, told The Kashmir Monitor that the outbreak was a “grave matter”, and they, along with the Wildlife Department, were monitoring the situation.

“Kashmir has a huge influx of migratory birds from Central Asia. As such we have issued this advisory asking people to report any bird death to us or the nearest police statement, or the wildlife department,” Qadri said.

“We are praying to Almighty that we don’t see any more difficult times as we are already in the middle of a pandemic,” he said.

“In Himachal, the government has banned consumption of poultry, and issued orders to cull all of them. You can understand the gravity of the situation. But unfortunately, we do not have a proper protocol in place in case such an incident of bird death is reported,” Qadri added.

According to reports, in Haryana alone, more than four lakh poultry birds have died at farms in Panchkula district in the past 10 days.

About the deaths of bar-headed geese in Pong Dam, Qadri said that migratory birds from the Himachal dam do fly to Jammu wetlands as well.

“We are already in touch with officials at Gharana Wetland in Jammu’s RS Pora,” he said.

“At present there are around five to six lakh migratory birds in Kashmir. If even one of them is infected, it can really be a big issue. Droppings from such birds can also be contagious,” he added.

Wildlife Warden (Wetlands), Ifshan Dewan said they have “not found out any such case of bird death so far”.

“We have shared the Union Ministry’s advisory with our rangers and other staff members, but no such case has been reported so far,” she said.

Dewan said that the widespread snowfall hampered their attempts to look for any such bird deaths.

Meanwhile, doctors in Kashmir have asked people to avoid poultry till the flu is eliminated.

President Doctors Association Kashmir (DAK), Dr Suhail Naik said it is high time to sound an alert and take optimal preventive measures.

“There is a possibility that the avian flu might jump to humans and then it will be very difficult to break the chain of transmission. The bird flu may come as a double whammy for us as we are already fighting a long-drawn battle against Covid 19 Pandemic. The unexplained deaths of birds in any locality need to be reported to the concerned Veterinary and Health authorities immediately so that optimal preventive measures are taken,” read a statement issued by DAK.

It advised people to stay alert and recommended that people should maintain good hygienic practices to reduce exposure to the virus.

“People are advised not to eat raw poultry parts and or raw eggs. Though cooking poultry meat thoroughly at temperatures more than 70 degree centigrade will inactivate the virus, it is better to avoid poultry and its products till flu is eliminated in birds,” the statement added.

Joint Director Poultry, Kashmir, Dr Mushtaq Ahmad Shah said while no case has been reported in the valley, the Animal Husbandry department has a contingency plan in case of any such outbreak.

“As the highway is closed, we did not have any fresh supply of chicken and eggs in Kashmir. Our monitoring teams are on the ground to check such supply as and when they arrive,” he said.

Besides, he said, in every district, “we have rapid response teams to deal with any such situation”.

Asked about the consumption of poultry, Dr Shah said that since no such case has been detected, “there is no problem in consuming poultry however people should ensure they boil and cook it properly.”