Monday, 22 October 2007

Andhra Pradesh is ill-equipped to tackle the bird flu

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Oct 22: The State is ill-equipped to tackle the bird flu in case of an outbreak of the highly infectitious disease. There's no vaccine for any of the 100 and odd strains of bird flu including the more dangerous strain H5N1 which infects human beings too.
The good news, however, is that none of the strains has ever been found in the Stare or elsewhere in the country. Poultry farmers in the State are a worried lot in the wake of reports that a flock of infected migratory birds has landed in some of the water bodies in Nellore and Krishna districts.
The city-based Environment Protection Training and Research Institute has noticed a change in the migratory pattern of birds after Tsunami last December. Some of the birds have changed their regular habitats and shifted base to lakes in Hyderabad. Most of the poultry farms are in and around Hyderabad and any lapse on the part of breeders may result in the spread of the the infection.
"We have taken all precautions. But we cannot say for sure that the disease will not infect the birds. We will know only when it outbreaks. As of now, all the samples collected in the State are free of any infection," says B Rami Reddy, president of Poultry Breeders Association.
India is the third largest producer of poultry in the world and Andhra Pradesh ranks first in the country both in terms of poultry farms and chicken and egg production. The State produces around five crore eggs and six crore chicken every day. A small negligence on the part of poultry farmers, officials fear, will lead to an outbreak of the deadly bird flu.
Hyderabad, known as the city of research laboratories, strangely enough does not have an exclusive research centre to test virus. The country has only one such facility in Bhopal. In fact, there are only five high security animal diseases laboratories in the world. The other four are located in Australia, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States of America.
Andhra Pradesh being the number one in poultry, the state of abattoirs and farms varies from unhygienic to satisfactory standards, and from highly organised to informal.
Says poultry expert MN Rao, "though there is always the threat of an outbreak of virus in the State or anywhere, poultry farmers in Andhra Pradesh have improved the standards during the past four years. The industry suffered heavily a couple of years ago when people stopped taking chicken fearing bird flu. Since then farmers themselves have stepped up survielliance".
However, health officials warn that the State must further improve its infrastructure, disease surveillance and reporting system. The State does not have enough stocks of vaccines for human influenza in case the disease spreads from poultry to human beings.
"A vaccine for the bird flu is not possible at this stage. The method of transmission is through migratory birds to poultry and not from human to human contact. A vaccine is possible only when we know the strain of the virus. In case of spread to human beings, anti-viral drugs may be used. But we will know the efficacy only when they start working," observes veterinarian Dr P Nagasrinivasa Rao.
Though the migratory birds have started arriving in the country, the poultry in the State continues to be safe, asserts KG Anand, general manager of Venkateswara Hatcheries. "Our birds are always kept in cages. Unlike in China and other countries, the farms in the State are closed and there's no scope of migratory birds infecting the local poultry. However, we are taking all precautions to prevent any outbreak," he points out.
Experts from different parts of the country are meeting in Tirupati on November 6 and 7 to discuss the problem of bird flu and how to contain the disease from entering the State.

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