Bird flu threat looms large over Kolkata
Kolkata, January 24, 2008
Authorities patrolled poultry markets in Kolkata to try to stop bird flu spreading to one of India's largest cities as fears grew the outbreak of the disease in eastern India was out of control.
Bird flu has spread to nine of West Bengal's 19 districts and there were reports of more bird deaths in another five districts in the state of 80 million people.
'The virus is most likely to spread to other areas within the infected zones and nearby districts, but we are now trying to stop it from hitting Kolkata,' said Surjya Kanta Mishra, the state's health minister.
The H5N1 bird flu virus has been confirmed in two districts so far. Authorities have not confirmed H5N1 in other districts but say it is likely to be the same strain.
The World Health Organisation has said it was India's most serious outbreak since the strain was first detected in the country in 2006. On Thursday, a 30-year-old Indonesian man who had tested positive for bird flu died, and the virus has also resurfaced in Europe.
Indonesia has had the most fatalities from bird flu of any country, with the toll currently at 98 people dead.
Thailand said on Thursday the strain was confirmed in poultry in a northern province, while Bangladesh has been struggling to contain an outbreak that has affected more than two dozen districts. West Bengal borders Bangladesh.
Scientists fear the strain could mutate into a form easily transmitted from person to person, leading to a pandemic that could kill millions around the globe.
Authorities found avian influenza in dead bird samples from Hooghly district, a little more than an hour's drive from the crowded West Bengal capital, Kolkata.
More than five million people live in Kolkata, a city dotted with rows of large houses, crumbling colonial buildings, glittering glass offices and congested slums.
Hundreds of health officials searched markets in the city's narrow lanes, looking for sick birds smuggled in from infected districts.
Health officials were also checking birds at the biggest poultry farm in the state near Kolkata.
'A strict surveillance has been put in place and we are checking every single truck coming into the city,' said Anisur Rahaman, the state's animal resources minister. 'We are making every effort to save the city from the virus.'-Reuters