Progress in the planned culling of 400,000 poultry following recent outbreaks of bird flu in the state of Bengal in India are being hampered by farmers and poultry owners reluctant to co-operate with animal husbandry teams sent to carry out the task.

According to a Reuters news agency photographer, some villagers at the centre of the outbreak said their ducks and chickens were not infected and were refusing to hand them over. Others have released their birds, making it hard for the culling teams to catch and destroy them.

Reporting from Calcutta, the Associated Press news agency said that over 50,000 birds have been culled in the third day of the planned 7 day operation to contain the spread of the virus which has hit districts in West Bengal, and which the World Health Organization has described as the worst bird flu outbreak in India to date.

The state government of Bengal said earlier this week they were planning to cull 400,000 poultry birds in a 5 to 10 kilometre radius of areas affected by the latest outbreak of H5N1 bird flu.

The areas affected are the Birbhum and Dakshin Dinajpur Districts of West Bengal.

According to the Times of India, Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee told the press that:

“We will have to kill four lakh birds in the affected districts. For this, we have decided to increase the strength of the culling teams.”

A lakh is a term used by officials in India to denote 100,000.

The decision was made following a meeting between officials from the Animal Resourcers and Development Department, the Health Department and the Central Livestock Commission.

The birds that died in the outbreaks were carrying the H5N1 strain of bird flu. This was confirmed in a letter from the Ministry of Agriculture, Department of Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries to the government of West Bengal, dated 15th January.

Samples from birds in the districts affected were sent to two labs for testing: the High Security Animal Disease Laboratory (HSADL) in Bhopal and the National Institute of Virology (NIV) in Pune. At least one sample from each of the two districts tested “positive for H5N1 strain of Avian Influenza in poultry”. The results of the other samples will be sent as soon as they are ready, said the letter.

Bhattacharjee said that a sub-division of Birbhum, called Rampurhat, was the worst affected, followed by Balurghat in West Dinajpur.

The culling is being carried out by 60 teams of animal husbandry workers, accompanied by medical staff to see if any people have been infected.

Local hospitals are on standby with isolation wards ready to receive any patients affected by the outbreak, as are teaching hospitals in nearby districts, said the Chief Minister.

So far India has reported no human cases of H5N1 bird flu.

The state government of Bengal has set aside 30 million rupees for compensation, said the Minister. This is about 750,000 US dollars, nearly 2 dollars a bird.

In terms of damage to business however, compensation per bird is no comparison the the fact poultry owners will effectively not be trading for at least three months, which together with reports that sales of chicken are down to half the normal trading level in the region, will cause severe hardship to many small farmers and poultry owners.

Meanwhile in Bangladesh, the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock has reported that nearly 300,000 poultry have been culled in over 93 farms in 22 districts, following an outbreak of H5 avian flu on 75 of the farms. No human cases have been reported they told the WHO.

Click here for WHO in India.

Sources: Times of India, Government of India Ministry of Agriculture website, WHO, Reuters, Associated Press.

Written by: Catharine Paddock