NEW DELHI, Mar 15 (AFP): Indian authorities geared up Wednesday to begin a new mass slaughter of poultry after fresh cases of bird flu were found in the western state of Maharashtra.
The latest cases of the lethal H5N1 bird flu strain announced late Tuesday were in Jalgaon, said senior state animal husbandry official Bijay Kumar.
The site was 140 kilometers (85 miles) from the initial outbreak reported February 18 in the town of Navapur, also in Maharashtra.
The new outbreak came as the national government published advertisements in newspapers assuring consumers properly cooked poultry products were safe to eat.
Chicken is a staple meat for Indians as pork and beef are often avoided due to religious beliefs. But after detection of the flu virus, chicken and egg sales plummeted, badly hurting the poultry industry.
Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar urged people to stay calm.
Upma Chowdhry, an agriculture ministry official, said most of the latest birds affected were backyard poultry, in contrast to the first outbreak which was concentrated on chicken farms.
Maharashtra husbandry official Kumar said some of the birds would be killed Wednesday but the slaughter would start in earnest the next day since many villagers were celebrating Holi, the Indian festival of colours, on Wednesday.
"Some may be in festival mood but some of the villagers may cooperate and we will be able to start today," he said.
He said authorities had warned children to stay away from potentially infected birds brought for slaughter.
Kumar also said villagers had been told to put cloth over their faces if they could not obtain a mask following criticism that unprotected villagers were walking around infected sites in Navapur.
"We will provide disinfectant for washing hands and we will be spraying premises," he said.
"Birds in 44 villages will be culled -- most of them are backyard operations -- there are only two poultry farms in the area with about 2,900 birds," Vijay Singhal, Jalgaon district administrator, told the NDTV television network
Late Tuesday federal official Chowdry put the number of birds to be killed at more than 75,000.
India's first outbreak in Navapur prompted the slaughter of nearly 300,000 mainly farm chickens. Later in February more cases were reported in a neighbouring area in Gujarat state, prompting the slaughter of 90,000 birds.
But officials said those cases were within the 10-kilometer (six-mile) radius of the initial "cull zone" and did not constitute a second outbreak.
Doctors tested almost 100 people for the virus last month but results were negative, easing fears the disease might have spread to humans in the country of more than one billion people where many live in close proximity with poultry.
H5N1, which can spread from infected birds to people in close proximity, has claimed about 100 lives in seven countries since 2003.
Kumar said restrictions on roads in and out of the affected areas would be more strictly enforced than during the initial outbreak.
"This time a stricter quarantine will be introduced," Kumar said. "Entry and exit routes will be very, very regulated" and a 10-kilometre (six-mile) killing zone would be put in place around the new affected area.