(eTN) – As Indians in the eastern state of West Bengal feast on chickens suspected to be infected with the bird flu virus, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned the country is facing its worst ever bird flu outbreak.
A WHO official was quoted in Kolkata saying the outbreak is “far more serious” than previous ones. “More serious risk factors are associated with this current outbreak than previously encountered, as the affected areas are more widespread and its proximity to border areas,” the WHO official said.
As health officials send teams to cull two million chickens and ducks, Anisur Rahman, West Bengal’s animal resources minister warned the bird flu outbreak could turn into a disaster. “The authorities are determined to cull all poultry in the district in three to four days,” he said.
He added: “Reports have reached us birds are dropping dead in several villages surrounding Margram. We are worried over the situation and have sought help from the federal government.”
The health warning came on Tuesday following reports citing that five suspected cases have been quarantined with symptoms of the virus, following an outbreak in eight districts, and more than 100,000 bird deaths within a week.
If blood tests on 150 patients who have complained of fever are positive, health authorities in New Delhi will be facing the first case of human infection in India, which was hit by bird flu among poultry three times since 2006, Indian newswires reported.
The situation turned from worst to chaotic when villagers smuggled birds out of affected areas and sold them in open markets. “The sale of poultry has doubled in the past week,” Sheikh Ali, a chicken vendor was quoted as saying. “As chicken prices come down, poor villagers are feasting on chicken, which they cannot afford to buy during normal times as prices are so high. Now they can also enjoy eating chicken.”
People are also crowding chicken shops that have sprung up overnight along the highways.
Authorities also report cases of poultry owners smuggling their birds out at night, and transporting them to different places for sale to escape culling.
“Things are now very, very serious and public health is under danger,” said M M Khan, an official with Bangladesh Poultry Association, which borders West Bengal state. “Every day we have reports of birds dying in farms, but the government is trying to suppress the whole scenario. Farmers are also holding back from reporting infected cases.”
WHO has warned against the dangers of a bird flu pandemic, if the H5N1 mutates into a form easily transmissible between humans. Since spread of the viral infection globally, more than 200 people worldwide have died.