KERALA BIRD FLU: Villagers smuggle poultry to escape culling

A CDC infographic on bird flu

Poultry farmers and chicken retailers in Kodiyathoor and Vengeri panchayats of Kerala are reported to have shifted their stock outside the panchayat limits to save them from being confiscated by the government, according to officials.

It was on Saturday that samples from two poultry farms in these areas tested positive for bird flu or avian influenza, which has a mortality rate of a whopping 60% among humans. In comparison, Covid 19 has a mortality rate of only around 2%.

This smuggling could result in any infection spreading to nearby areas.

In most cases, avian influenza in humans develops into a serious disease that should be treated promptly in the hospital and may require intensive care, where available, according to the World Health Organization.

Bird flu has been prevalent among birds for centuries, but was rarely seen as a threat to human beings.

Human infections were first reported in 1997 in Hong Kong. Since 2003, more than 700 human cases of Asian HPAI H5N1 have been reported to the WHO, primarily from 15 countries in Asia, Africa, the Pacific, Europe, and the Middle East.

The Kerala government announced on Saturday that birds in the two areas would be culled, with the confiscation and culling in full swing on Monday.

The government also imposed a ban on the sale of poultry in a 10 km radius around the infected farms.

However, K Nina Kumar, chief veterinary officer for Kozhikode, said he estimates that about 40% of the farm birds in the area have been smuggled out and sold to farms and retailers outside the culling zone.

Health officials said that when they reached certain farms and houses where poultry cultivation was reported by the locals, they found the cages to be empty.

“This is totally the wrong practice,” Nina Kumar said. “If these birds have the virus, there is a chance that it will spread to humans.”

Most human cases of the avian flu are a result of either handling dead infected birds or from contact with infected fluids, putting poultry workers at high danger. It can also be spread through contaminated surfaces and droppings. 

The only consolation is that unlike Covid 19, the H5N1 virus does not usually pass from humans to humans, and requires close contact with infected birds for transmission to humans.

Chances of catching bird flu can be brought down by taking precautions. Anyone who handles poultry, dead or alive, should wash their hands for at least 20 seconds before and after handling flesh, eggs or live birds.

Proper cooking at high temperatures also kills the virus, and it is preferable to boil eggs instead of making a bulls eye.

A sub-type of bird flu virus called H7N9 was also reported for the first time in 2013 in China, which is characterized by a high rate of transmission from infected birds to humans.