While confirming the detection of bird flu in crows and migratory birds in some areas of Kashmir, Director Animal Husbandry Purnima Mittal in an exclusive interview tells Umar Mukhtar that the government has acted in time to prevent the spread of infection to commercial birds 

Pornima Mittal, Director of Animal Husbandry, Kashmir

Kashmir Life (KL): Recently, the statement from the animal husbandry came where it was said that has confirmed bird flu has been detected in some among crows and migratory birds in Kashmir. Where exactly has it happened?

Purnima Mittal (PM):  In the month of December, we got information that in many outside states like Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Haryana, cases of bird flu cases have been detected. Simultaneously, the Government of India sounded an alert all over and directed states to take the necessary steps to spread prevent the contamination. So, we came into action and devised rapid action teams (RAT) in every district to tackle any such situation. 

Simultaneously, when our RAT started working, they got information of deaths of some wild crows at Uri, Sopore and Kulgam. We took collected the samples and in the first instance, we sent 40 samples to Bhopal Lab. They all came negative. But in the second instance when we had sent more samples, to the lab, we got four positive cases. 

These cases were from Kulgam, Anantnag, Budgam and in between Pulwama and Srinagar border ( at Athwajan). 

A photograph showing how poultry selling was a mobile activity. The picture is not so old as the system was in vogue till recently

KL: What was the response of your department after getting confirmation of the positive cases?

PMThe infection was in the wild community only and in that case, it is not that harmful but we should not let it transfer to commercial birds i.e., like poultry, then we have to be more particular. Accordingly, we started our work and did sanitization of the area and within the radius of one km we did sample collection of all the poultry farms and poultry birds.

New Bird Flu

KL: Were those zones declared as contaminated or red zones?

PM: It is not like that, we have sounded the alert because only one bird, the wild crow was found as affected. There was no such case in the backyard or commercial poultry. or commercial poultry. Alert was sounded up to ten km of the radius from the epicentre. We have also enhanced surveillance in the areas.

KL:  How were these cases detected? Was it by random sampling or some third party has informed you about it?

PMIt is not random sampling. It is from the alert sounded given by the government of India prior to 25days prior. We have enhanced the surveillance and every officer has been called for to see whether there were any mortalities or not in their areas and accordingly they have reported.

KL: Is there a difference between Avian flu and bird flu, or are the same?

PM: Bird Flu and Avian flu is the same. There is no line of difference. It is a strain scientifically known as Avian influenza which is H5NA strain.

KL: Does this transmit to humans also? If so, then how dangerous could it be and what consequences could it have on humans?

PMIt is a zoonotic disease. If it is not handled properly it can infect the person who is dealing with the birds. If it goes to the poultry birds so the person handling the birds can be infected. It is like common flu and has same symptoms if transmitted to humans. We are also educating the poultry farmers and making them aware them of the SOP’s to be followed in their farms. If we find any type of Avian influenza in a commercial farm, we have to cull all the birds in that area in one km of radius.

Inside view of poultry farm.

KL: We hear about Bird Flu every year. Is there a monitoring system and database created by your department? When was it last time Kashmir witnessed bird flu in commercial birds?

PMWhat I have heard here from many officers from the department, all they said that we never had bird flu here. 

KL: Kashmir imports poultry from the rest of other states. It sounds ironical that rest of the other sates had witnessed such flu’s in past and we never had it here or is it like we have no labs and facilitates here to keep track?

PM: Our farms are always safe. Maybe it is because of the environmental conditions or because of temperature or other things. There were deaths of some poultry also but their tests have been found negative.

KL: Kashmir comes as a flyway for the migratory birds who fly from Siberia and other places. Almost every year 20 lakh migratory birds fly here and stay for some time. Do you have a procedure of random sampling to minimize the chances of getting the flu here?

PMIt is not required random sampling for the Avian virus. It has very less incubation period. For migratory birds, we have posted a vet doctor in the wildlife department. His job is surveillance, only if any type of mortality or unusual behaviour is found then only the team has to take the action. 

KL: It sounds like you will act only after the crisis erupts?

PMNo, we do surveillance and monitor the behaviour always. 

KL: People go to wetlands for bird watching especially when these migratory birds come here., Has your department issued any advisory for them?

PM: Yes, we have issued advisories. It is like if any person who goes to wetlands for photography or any other purpose, he is told not to touch any bird or go inside the waters. Also, we have issued advisories for commercial poultry farmers too. 

KL: How many testing labs and mobile testing vans your department possesses?

PM: We have some preliminary testing labs here, but have only one actual advanced lab in at Zakura. and other than that we are taking the help of SKAUST microbiology department.

Mobile vans, we still do not have such facility mobile vans here but we are going to do that get them in next two-three months. 

KL: You have initially banned the poultry and after few days of ban you have revoked that. So, is it that people do not need to fear while consuming poultry?

PM: Yes, poultry is safe. In the first report when we got the information that there is an infection in our neighbouring state, Haryana. We banned the imports because we are having have around 20 lakhs poultry of our own available in our Kashmir valley. The ban was done imposed to safeguard them only. But after the government of India said that there is no bird flu in poultry, we lifted the ban but with proper precautions. We do the sampling of every vehicle coming from outside so that no bird with infection would enter into the valley. 


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