Chicken flu alert

Among the foremost lessons learnt from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic is the urgency of containing its spread. The key to it lies in early detection by testing of suspected cases and isolation of those found positive. Alas! Even as this pandemic is still raging with lakhs of humans in its grip, the handling of a mysterious disease resulting in mass deaths of birds in the Barwala belt of Panchkula, Haryana, betrays grave laxity, which in this Covid era would leave even a layperson aghast. In the past one month, the count of chickens dropping dead has spiralled to 4.3 lakh in this poultry hub — Asia’s biggest, housing nearly 80 lakh birds in the over 100 farms located in the area. It is way above the normal figure of fatalities reported every winter due to severe cold.

And, when fears of avian flu surfaced as states were put on alert following the outbreak of the viral disease in Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh, the authorities bungled in the testing arena. The samples sent for testing from Barwala to the Jalandhar lab have been found to be insufficient, requiring another round of the exercise. This has cost crucial time. The final diagnosis, if pointing to the dreaded flu, will be further delayed as it has to be routed through the Bhopal lab. The Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare’s note first confirming bird flu and then retracting it only added to the goof-up. The mismanagement has impacted the beleaguered poultry business, which had just started to totter back to normalcy after suffering the lockdown-induced setback.

Meanwhile, as reports of various migratory and local birds dying pile up from neighbouring wetlands and water bodies, including the Sukhna Lake in Chandigarh and the Pong Lake and Bilaspur areas in Himachal, there is a need to step up vigil and preventive surveillance. Equally important is to quell rumours and panic with a scientific approach to the situation. While a flu outbreak calls for the culling of birds, humans can safely consume properly cooked eggs and meat, say experts.

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