India tries to make believe public after bird flu outbreak

Health workers in western India expanded a massive slaughter of chickens to halt the spread of the H5N1 bird flu virus on Wednesday, as top officials struggled to reassure the public it was safe to eat poultry products.

More than 700,000 birds have been killed in India's Navapur district since tests of some of 30,000 chickens that died in recent weeks detected the virus.

The government on Tuesday completed culling birds within a 3-kilometer (2-mile) radius of the outbreak in Maharashtra state, said the state's animal husbandry commissioner, Vijay Kumar.

However, authorities continued killing chickens Wednesday, widening the culling area to a 10-kilometer (6-mile) radius of the outbreak. P.M.A. Hakeem, an official with the federal Department of Animal Husbandry, said approximately 80,000 additional birds would be slaughtered.

The chickens were to have been vaccinated, "but for the sake of safety and as an abundant precaution," they will be slaughtered, he said.

Health officials were also trying to figure out how to safely dispose of some 2,000 tons of chicken droppings that could contain the virus, said Kumar. "We will meet with farmers today to work out how best to clear it up," Kumar said.

The H5N1 virus has devastated poultry stocks and killed at least 92 people, mostly in Asia, since 2003, according to the World Health Organization. Most human cases of the disease have been linked to contact with infected birds. But scientists fear the virus could mutate into a form that is easily transmitted between humans, sparking a pandemic, reports the AP.


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