Wildlife & Biodiversity

Kerala bird flu: Thousands of ducks to be culled in Alappuzha after reports of confirmed cases

The circulating H5N1 strain has killed millions of birds and mammals, including polar bear and penguins

By Himanshu Nitnaware
Published: Thursday 18 April 2024
Photo: iStock

Thousands of ducks in Kerala have been infected with the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) H5N1, the district administration confirmed.

The reports of infection in ducks from Edathua and Cheruthana in Kuttanad region have confirmed the presence of the disease, said officials of the Alappuzha district collectorate. However, they refused to share further details.

Abraham Ouseph from Edathua lost 3,000 of his 7,500 ducks in a week, according to a report in the newspaper The Hindu. Raghunathan Chirayil and Devarajan T from the same district also lost 238 and 171 birds, respectively. 

Many birds infected by HPAI show nervousness, lack of coordination and movements, tremors, gasping for air, swelling and redness around neck, head and eyes. 

The reports of mass infections started coming in around April 12 and the carcass were immediately sent to the National Institute of High-Security Animal Disease, Bhopal, which confirmed the tests to be positive on April 17. 

The animal husbandry department has initiated measures to contain the disease.

About 21,537 birds, a majority of them ducks, will be killed within a kilometre radius from the affected areas, the official said. 

Avian flu outbreaks have been reported four times in the region in three years. Earlier cases were reported in 2021, 2022 and 2023 from Kuttanad, Thakazy Gram Panchayat and Vazhuthanam.

The disease is known to infect poultry birds since the 1960s. The H5N1 strain has infected avian birds, sea birds, mammals across the world, even in the farthest corners in the Arctic and Antarctica. Among mammals it has infected sea lions, elephant seals, polar bears and penguins.

The infection by the currently circulating H5N1 virus clade was first reported from Europe in 2020. It has caused multiple outbreaks and deaths of millions of birds and mammals across the globe. 

The latest bird flu outbreak has created a scare among the scientific community, with a recent case of human transmission reported in Texas. Scientists have predicted if the virus becomes capable of human-to-human transmission, it can lead to a global health emergency and could be 100 times worse than the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The current subtype of the bird flu virus has shown an alarming ability to infect a wider array of wild birds and mammals. As it circulates among multiple hosts, this increases the likelihood of genetic mutations, heightening the risk of viral evolution and potential adaptation to mammals,” Suresh Kuchipudi, professor and chair, Department of Infectious Diseases and Microbiology at The Center for Vaccine Research, University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health told Down To Earth in a recent email interview.

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