Birds Avian Flu : Delhi Zoo Shutdown for at least the next three days

New Delhi, Oct 20: In the first instance of bird flu cases in Delhi, at least three migratory birds at the Delhi zoo have succumbed to the H5N1 influenza virus since October 14 while test results on seven others are awaited. The zoo has been closed to visitors for at least the next three days as authorities begin to vaccinate both the staff and other birds to contain the disease.

The government said the situation was not alarming and precautionary measures were being taken. Six rapid response teams have also inspected the Ghazipur chicken wholesale market and a few birding sites in the city.

While the H5N1 virus can infect people, no human bird flu case has ever been recorded in India despite several outbreaks among birds.

Ten birds have died at the zoo since Friday , of which three have been positively identified as bird flu cases. The first two bird deaths were reported last Fri day , with six more on the following day . A death each was reported on Monday and Wednesday . According to zoo officials, the birds that perished were local migratory birds -ducks, rosy pelicans and painted storks.

Delhi rural development minister Gopal Rai, who inspected the zoo on Wednesday afternoon, said samples from the dead birds had been first sent to a lab in Jalandhar and then to a central government facility in Bhopal, which confirmed that at least three cases so far were positive for bird flu.

“The situation is not very serious right now. The virus has affected only migratory birds but since we do not want to take any chances, we have deputed teams to visit the Ghazipur chicken wholesale market and some prominent birding sites in Delhi such as the Yamuna Biodiversity Park, Najafgarh drain, Okhla bird sanctuary and Nizamuddin. These areas are also being sanitized,” Rai said. One team has been stationed at the zoo. “Preliminary reports have said that no other infected birds have been found so far,” Rai said.

On Wednesday , central zoo authority officials also visited the zoo to assess the situation and said that enclosures 14 and 15 were likely affected by the virus. The zoo has at present around 40 pelicans and 20 ducks, while painted storks are coming in from Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. According to zoo officials, all precautionary measures are being taken and vaccinations are underway .Disinfectants are also being sprayed around the zoo prem ises. “As a precautionary measure, masks are being worn by the staff. More samples are being sent for testing. There is no need to panic as there is no threat to humans yet. The virus was found only in certain wild birds and we are taking all measures to prevent it from spreading,” said Amitabh Agnihotri, Delhi zoo director.

A meeting with officials of the health, environment, revenue and development departments, zoo director and animal husbandry officials of both the Centre and the state has been convened on Thursday . The government is also trying to set up a meeting with Maharashtra government officials who handled the bird flu outbreak in the state in 2006.

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