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Wild Bird Spread of H5N1 in West Bengal India?

Recombinomics Commentary 10:10
January 16, 2008

And the deadly strain of the virus couldn't have struck at a worse time, the 18th of December, a couple of days before Bakrid - a time when the demand for chicken peaks in the Muslim dominated village.

Dead chickens and even a few crows and owls are strewn across the landscape, according to health officials and television news pictures.

TV pictures also showed shirtless farmers picking up dead chickens with their bare hands and dropping them in shallow pits, some covering their mouths with cotton scarves.

Protection did not seem to be of much importance as many in other villages of the affected districts were seen holding dead pigeons and crows with their bare hands.

The above comments indicate the outbreak in the Birbhum district (see updated satellite map) began a month ago, and resident wild birds, including crows, pigeons, and owls have been affected.

Many of the infected birds have been eaten by villagers, and at least two have shown bird flu symptoms.

The delayed response is due in part by limited testing due to concerns about causing alarm.  Although this is the third H5N1 outbreak in India, they have yet to report H5N1 in wild birds, even though the bar headed geese from Qinghai Lake in central China winter in the northern plains of India.

In the current outbreak in West Bengal, H5N1 has been confirmed in two districts and suspected to have spread to a third.  The outbreaks are near the eastern border shared with Bangladesh, where confirmed and suspect outbreaks on also being currently reported.  The Bangladesh border has been sealed to limit cross border movement. 

However, the outbreak in Birbhum is only 20 miles from the Bangladesh border as the crow flies, so limits on the ground may not effectively limit spread.  Similarly, the farm in Balurghat in south Dinajour is on the border, and suspect bird deaths have been noted across the border in Rajshahi, Bangladesh.

The time delay, coupled with dead resident wild birds suggests the H5N1 has spread beyond the reported locations.

More information on testing in adjacent areas would be useful.

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