India’s health workers try stamp out outbreak of bird flu

Health workers trying to stamp out an outbreak of bird flu in western India struggled Friday to convince anxious villagers that chickens bred in their backyards must be slaughtered.

Workers in pale blue protective gear had culled about 40,000 birds by late Thursday and were busy slaughtering another 35,000 birds, said S.M. Ali, an official in the animal husbandry department of Maharashtra state, where the outbreak occurred.

Authorities were still awaiting results of tests to determine whether chickens from the Jalgaon district of Maharashtra have the virulent H5N1 strain of the disease.

India's first outbreak last month of H5N1 bird flu was centered in large poultry farms. But the latest outbreak has hit small backyard farms, most with less than 20 chickens.

"This time it's more difficult because teams have to find out if there are chickens in people's homes. But it's being done," Ali said. "We are using local leaders to convince villagers to give up their chickens."

It was not clear whether the outbreak in Jalgaon and the one last month are related. Jalgaon is about 500 kilometers (310 miles) north of Bombay and more than 170 kilometers (105 miles) east of Nandurbar, where the first outbreak was centered.

In addition to slaughtering birds, workers will also clear bird droppings and other waste in Jalgaon over the next two weeks, said D.K. Shankaran, the state's chief secretary.

Health teams were also conducting checkups to rule out flu-like symptoms in villagers living in Jalgaon and surrounding areas.

Bird flu has killed or prompted the culling of more than 140 million chickens and ducks across Asia since 2003, and has recently spread to Europe, Africa and the Middle East, reportas the AP.

I.L.

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