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Pakistan badly exposed to serious threat of bird flu

By Our Correspondent
January 18, 2021

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has been badly exposed to serious threat of bird flu, called as bird avian influenza, since the migratory birds from Central Asia have transported the virus to neighbouring India to south of Pakistan in January-February.

Nine Indian states, including Kerala, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh have been reported to be inflicted with bird flu in recent weeks. Two of the states are situated in the close proximity of Pakistan’s border. Reports said unusual deaths of a large number of birds, including wild ones, have started coming from many Indian states during the first week of January, indicating that the virus is being actively transmitted through various bird groups.

According to media reports, the Indian authorities have been discovering dead birds as avian influenza sweeps across the country, alarming the people who have already been rattled by coronavirus. Since late December, thousands of geese, ducks, crows and other birds have been found dead in nine states, from Kerala on India’s southern tip to the Himalayan state of Himachal Pradesh in the north. There are no reported human infections. Officials working to quash the new epidemic have detected two different strains of bird flu, H5N1 and H5N8.

The authorities believe that the virus was carried by birds migrating from Central Asia before spreading among poultry, prompting officials to cull hundreds of thousands of birds in states such as Haryana and Kerala. In Europe, France has been culling 600,000 poultry birds to contain its own outbreak of H5N8, with the UK and Belgium also recently uncovering cases. Officials in Japan and South Korea too have reported the cases of bird flu. You never know when it would become a pandemic, said an expert, cautioning to be extremely watchful.

The local and central government in India have increased testing of deceased birds for presence of bird flu, although scientists said the true extent of the outbreak remained unclear. Some ecologists said the insufficient surveillance of birds, including live birds, made such outbreaks harder to prevent. The coronavirus pandemic underscored the urgency of such work. Human health is closely interconnected with animal health and environmental health. The human health should not be viewed in isolation.

India has recorded more than 10 million coronavirus cases, the second highest in the world, and more than 150,000 deaths, the destruction of habitats such as wetlands exacerbated outbreaks by forcing more birds to concentrate in fewer places. For example, thousands of carcasses have been found around the Pong Dam Lake in the Himalayan foothills, a popular bird-watching spot, including the famous migratory bar-headed goose. India experienced multiple severe avian flu outbreaks in 2006 and 2008, which led to the culling of millions of birds.

The recent scare has hammered India’s fast-growing poultry industry. The prices have tumbled as anxious consumers avoided chicken meat and eggs, although the officials have sought to assure the public that cooked poultry is safe. Broiler chicken prices have fallen by almost one third in the western Indian states of Maharashtra and Gujarat. Less than a year ago, producers had to swallow a similar price crash after unfounded rumours that people could catch Covid-19 from chickens, which prompted consumers to shun poultry.