By Ajit Solanki
Monday, February 20, 2006
NAVAPUR, India, Feb. 19 -- Health officials and farm workers in protective clothing began slaughtering hundreds of thousands of chickens in western India on Sunday, hoping to prevent the spread of the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu.
Europe also stepped up its battle against bird flu as the European Union's top poultry producer, France, grappled with its first reported case of the lethal virus.
European poultry farmers said consumption had fallen and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in losses. Germany ordered some birds killed on the Baltic Sea island of Rugen. The number of deadly avian influenza cases in Italy rose to 16.
Indian officials reported the death of a 27-year-old poultry farm owner who had bird-flu-like symptoms, though tests had yet to determine what killed him.
"At this juncture we can only suspect that the cause of his death could be bird flu," an official in the Surat district of Gujarat state, Vatsala Vasudev, told the Press Trust of India news agency.
Workers in Navapur, a major poultry farming region in western Maharashtra state, dumped bird carcasses into deep pits at poultry farms, along with gloves, goggles and blue gowns used by health teams.
Bird flu has devastated poultry stocks and killed at least 91 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.
Scientists fear that the virus could mutate into a form that is easily transmitted among humans, sparking a pandemic.
Since early Sunday, more than 200,000 chickens had been killed in Navapur out of about 500,000 expected to be slaughtered within a 1.5-mile radius, said Anees Ahmed, the Maharashtra state minister for animal husbandry.
Poultry farms were closed to all but health officials and workers in protective gear. Chicken shops were shuttered. Officials have banned the sale or transport of chickens from the area, and truck inspection checkpoints have been set up.
India exports $84.4 million worth of poultry products a year to Europe, Japan and the Middle East. Overseas orders had risen in the past year as countries such as Indonesia struggled to control bird flu outbreaks.
"Now countries will shut us out," said Ajit Ranade of the Bombay Veterinary College.
Neighboring Nepal said Sunday it was banning imports of all poultry and poultry products from India, while Bangladesh said it would step up surveillance along its border with India to prevent smuggling of birds.
In Egypt, authorities closed the Cairo zoo after six of 83 birds that died there recently tested positive for the H5N1 strain. Health authorities said tests still had not found the disease in humans.
Egyptian officials, meanwhile, pleaded with citizens not to dispose of dead chickens, turkeys or other birds by throwing them into roads, irrigation canals or the Nile River.