Bird flu outbreak in 2 districts

State on high alert after H5N8 subtype of Influenza A virus reported in ducks

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM The State was placed on high alert on Monday after an outbreak of bird flu was confirmed in Kottayam and Alappuzha districts. The Animal Husbandry Department has taken adequate steps to contain the spread of infection, Animal Husbandry Minister K. Raju said.

The presence of the H5N8 subtype of the Influenza A virus was reported in ducks in Thalavadi, Thakazhy, Pallipad and Karuvatta in Alappuzha district and Neendoor in Kottayam district.

Five of eight samples airlifted to the National Institute of High Security Animal Diseases (NIHSAD), Bhopal, tested positive for the bird flu virus, the Minister said, adding that the infection has not been reported in human beings so far.

Culling of ducks in the infected regions will be undertaken as per Central government guidelines. Disease surveillance and disinfection will be carried out in a time-bound manner, Mr. Raju said.

In humans

While it can prove lethal for birds, the H5N8 strain of avian influenza has a lower likelihood of spreading to humans compared to H5N1, officials of the State Institute for Animal Diseases (SIAD) at Palode said. Besides, the precautions already in place for combating the COVID-19 pandemic, including physical distancing and wearing of masks, further reduce the threat to humans, an SIAD official said.

While the source of infection is yet to be pinpointed, the role of migratory birds in passing on the virus is suspected. Following the confirmation of the outbreak from the NIHSAD, the Animal Husbandry Department has tightened vigil in all districts, particularly Alappuzha, Kottayam and Pathanamthitta.

In recent years, bird flu (H5N1 strain) outbreaks were reported in Kerala in 2014 and 2020. An H5N8 outbreak was reported in Kuttanad in Alappuzha, in 2016.

A high-level meeting was convened at the Animal Husbandry Directorate on Monday to assess the situation. Control rooms were opened at the District Veterinary Centres in Alappuzha and Kottayam. The Joint Director (Poultry) was appointed State-level nodal officer for tackling the emergency. The Additional Director (Planning) will tour the districts to monitor the prevention measures.

The Animal Husbandry Department will chart out the future course of action in collaboration with the Departments of Revenue, Health, Local Self-Government, Police and Forest. A meeting of senior officials at the State and district levels has been scheduled on Tuesday to review the measures.

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