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    Is India Really Free from Avian Influenza?

    ViewsIs India Really Free from Avian Influenza?
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    Is India Really Free from Avian Influenza?

    The virus has been eradicated from 26 compartments limited to the four states of Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Chhattisgarh.

    By Kaushiki Vaish

    The World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH), on October 13th, approved the self-declaration of freedom from Avian Influenza or bird flu submitted by The Department of Animal Husbandry & Dairying, Government of India.

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    In July this year the World Health Organisation had warned about a surge in the cases.

    The virus has been eradicated from 26 compartments limited to the four states of Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Chhattisgarh – this though the virus is found in 24 states and union territories of India.

    “Surveillance was carried out throughout the country and around the areas of the outbreaks since completion of the operation (including culling, disinfection and clean-up), which showed no evidence of presence of Avian Influenza Virus,” a Union Agriculture Ministry release quoted in The Statesman newspaper said.

    Back in 2019, India had proclaimed itself independent of the H5N1 virus but from the end of 2020 to the early part of 2021 saw an outbreak of H5N1 and H5N8 in 15 different states.

    The first case of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in India occurred back in 2006. Since then several outbreaks have occurred over the years.

    In 2022, 67 countries in five continents reported H5N1 high pathogenicity avian influenza outbreaks in poultry and wild birds to WOAH, with more than 131 million domestic poultry lost due to death or culling in affected farms and villages. In 2023, another 14 countries reported outbreaks, mainly in the Americas, as the disease continues to spread. Several mass death events have been reported in wild birds, caused by influenza.

    According to a research paper published in the Indian Journal of Medical Research, a total of 284 H5N1 outbreaks were reported since 2006 with a surge in 2021. These outbreaks were reported between October and March, peaking in January.

    “There is a recent paradigm change in the ecology and epidemiology of avian influenza which has heightened global concern as the disease spread to new geographical regions and caused unusual wild bird die-offs, and alarming rise in mammalian cases,” said Dr Gregorio Torres, Head of the Science Department at WOAH.

    Bird flu, or avian influenza, refers to a variety of influenza type A viruses and is a zoonotic disease that affects wild and domestic bird populations. It is a concern because the virus can spread quickly among domestic birds, causing drastic economic losses.

    The only remedy is culling of the birds as usage of vaccine is not permitted by the government.
    Over 9 million birds have so far been culled.

    “As per World Organization of Animal Health (OIE), vaccination is not considered the solution for the control of Avian Influenza (Bird Flu) if eradication is the desired result,” Union Minister Sanjeev Kumar Balyan said in a written reply to the Rajya Sabha.

    Long-term circulation of the virus in a vaccinated population may result in both antigenic and genetic changes in the virus and this has been reported to have occurred in several countries, the Minister of State for Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying had said.

    The minister further explained that with the long-term use of vaccination either the disease becomes endemic and therefore widespread, or the infection in affected animals gets too difficult to detect.

    Image: Wikipedia commons

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