Kerala state steps up avian flu surveillance over epidemic scare

Kuttanad,Oct26:As the fear of an avian influenza (bird flu) outbreak grips the State, forest officials have fanned out to different parts of the State looking for ominous signs of infection.Surveillance has been stepped up in different bird locations with focus on waterbodies. The influx of migratory birds to the State has contributed to the worries of conservationists and wildlife managers even though the source of infection has not been confirmed.

Birders and field staff of the Forest Department have been asked to look for “sick birds with drooping wings, flapped feathers, isolated from the group, and those which are refusing to feed.” Besides migratory birds, domestic birds showing signs of disease will also have to be observed.

International experts have cautioned that long-distance migratory birds can play a major role in the global spread of avian influenza viruses.

Field officials have been instructed not to handle birds with bare hands. They have been directed to use surgical masks while handling birds.

 A circular issued by the Forest Department indicates that infected birds may show signs of loss of appetite. They could have edema and swelling of head and eyelids. The infected ones may have blood-tinged discharge from its nostrils and may show signs of respiratory distress, according to an alert issued by the Wildlife Warden, Idukki. Meanwhile, a team from the Bird Monitoring Cell, based at the Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary, Thattekad, began inspecting the wetland sites of the State.

No signs of any infected birds could be detected during the survey conducted at the Kadamakkudi wetlands, said R. Sugathan, ornithologist who is coordinating the bird monitoring programme.

During the day, 63 species of birds, including 21 international long-distance migrants, were observed. The species included Sandpipers, Stints, Teels, and Egrets. The team covered 22 natural habitats and three duck farms in the region and collected 36 samples, including blood and bird dropping.

On the incidents of avian flu reported in Alappuzha, the researchers said no evidence to prove that the infection was caused by migratory birds was available so far. Moreover, no incidents of outbreak of bird flu in the home countries of the international migrant species have been reported. The causative factor needed to be probed thoroughly, an ornithologist said.