Gujarat records its first confirmed case of avian flu, 9 more birds found dead


Gujarat recorded its first confirmed cases of bird flu as samples of a few of the 55 birds that were found dead at Kharo dam in Junagadh district earlier this month tested positive for the infection, government officials said Saturday.

While there has been no report of infection in poultry birds, so far, surveillance has been intensified across the state, officials said. Carcasses of five egrets and four crows were also recovered from Junagadh city and Lohej village in Junagadh district, respectively, they added.

This is the first reported outbreak of the avian flu in Gujarat since 2017 when the disease was confirmed in some parts of Ahmedabad.

On January 2, state animal husbandry and forest departments had found at least 53 birds — 46 Red-wattled lapwings, three ruffs, three northern shovelers, and one comb duck — dead on the shore of Kharo dam at Bantva village in Manavadar taluka. Ruffs and northern shovelers are migratory species. A day later, carcasses of two more Red-wattled lapwings were found and samples of these birds were sent to the National Institute of High Security Animal Diseases (NIHSAD) in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, for tests.

“Some samples of Red-wattled lapwings have been found positive for avian flu and our officers have undertaken an exercise to sanitise the Kharo dam coast,” Kunvarji Bavaliya, state Minister of Animal Husbandry told The Indian Express. “The birds in which the infection has been confirmed are all scheduled birds. There has been no report of this infection in poultry birds, so far. Nonetheless, we have instructed our officers in districts to intensify vigilance activities,” he added.

Seventeen samples of the birds, which were found dead at Kharo dam, were sent to NISHAD, Dr Falguni Thakar, the director of state animal husbandry (AH) department, said. “The confirmation report reached Delhi and my office yesterday,” she said.

Besides Junagadh, Dr Thakar said, mass mortality of scheduled birds, especially crows, have been reported from Vadodara, Valsad, Vyara in Tapi district and Motera near Ahmedabad. “Samples of these birds have also been sent to the Bhopal institute for tests and results are awaited. But the good part is that the birds which have died so far are crows as chances of the infection spreading from crows to other birds are minimal. Poultry birds seem to be unaffected so far but we have asked our officers to survey poultry birds, take their samples and keep testing,” she said.

The AH department officers in Junagadh had also sent carcasses of the two Red-wattled lapwings that were found dead on January 3 to NIHSAD. “One of those two lapwing carcasses have also tested positive for bird flu,” Dr SN Vaghasiya, the deputy director of AH department in Junagadh, said.

He added no further bird deaths have been reported at Kharo dam since January 4. “However, four crows died at Lohej village in Mangrol taluka and five storks were also found dead at the Gujarat Pollution Control Board office near Sitakhana Chowk in Junagadh city. We have sent samples of these birds to Bhopal for testing,” Dr Vaghasiya added.

The deputy director added there is a colony of egrets on trees near the GPCB office. In Lohej village, too, the birds were roosting on a banyan tree.

Dr Ashok Kumbhani, a veterinary officer of Mangrol taluka, said there are a couple of banyan trees near Vadvala hotel at Lohej village and the hotel owner had contacted forest officers after finding three crows dead. “A forest team later found three carcasses and seven other crows that seemed affected and brought them to us. One of the seven crows later died. We have handed the remaining six crows back to forest department after providing them treatment. We have also sanitised the place where they were found dead. There is no poultry farm in a one-km radius of the spot and, therefore, there is no fear of the infection spreading to poultry birds as of now,” he said.

On Saturday, Dushyant Vasavada, the chief conservator of forests of Junagadh wildlife circle that covers Junagadh, Gir Somnath, Porbandar, Amreli and Bhavnagar districts, said no mass mortality was reported from the wetlands in the protected areas. However, zoos across the state have shut their aviaries indefinitely from Saturday, following an order issued by the director of state AH department.

“We have issued the order as a precautionary measure to prevent the bird flu jumping to humans. In India, there haven’t been reports of the bird flu jumping to humans but such cases have been reported from Hong Kong. So far, Kerala and Haryana are the only two states in India where bird flu cases have been detected in poultry birds,” Dr Thakar said.

The Rajkot Municipal Corporation (RMC) on Friday said the aviary at Rajkot Zoological Park will remain closed to visitors from Saturday onwards but other sections of the park will remain open.

As a precautionary measure, Shyamal Tikadar, the principal chief conservator of forests (PCCF) and chief wildlife warden of Gujarat, had issued an order to keep bird sanctuaries of Nal Sarovar and Thol in Ahmedabad, Khijaydiya in Jamnagar, and Porbandar in Porbandar district, Wild Ass Sanctuary in Surendranagar, Vadhvana wetland in Vadodara district, and Chhari Dhand Conservation Reserve in Kutch closed to tourists until further order but later withdrew it. “We had issued the orders to keep these sanctuaries closed as a precautionary measure in view of the bird flu outbreak. However, we have withdrawn this order after instructions from the government. The government is of the view that panic should not be created. Therefore, these sanctuaries are open to visitors,” he said.

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