India to import 1.5 million doses of bird flu vaccine

India will import 1.5 million doses of a vaccine that protects poultry from bird flu as a precaution, even though no cases of the deadly disease have yet been detected in the country, an official said. The stockpile will allow authorities to vaccinate poultry quickly if there is an outbreak among birds, said Santanu Kumar Bandyopadhyay, India's animal husbandry commissioner.

"We will continue to be on an acute surveillance mode at least until March, when the migratory birds leave," he said in a phone interview. "Monitoring will continue after that too." The Indian government is buying the vaccine for 1.50 rupees (3.25 U.S. cents) per dose from Intervet Nederland B.V., Bandyopadhyay said. The consignment should reach India next week. The H5N1 strain of bird flu has swept through poultry populations in large swaths of Asia since 2003, jumping to humans and killing at least 69 people.

There are currently no vaccines to protect humans against the H5N1 strain of bird flu.

Most human cases have been linked to contact with sick birds. But the WHO has warned that the virus could mutate into a form that spreads easily among humans, possibly triggering a global pandemic that could kill millions.

Scientists have said the only way to contain the spread of bird flu would be to eliminate infected birds, reports the AP. I.L.

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