Bird flu outbreak in Thimphu camp city

Dr. Kinzang during second NICC meeting presented the outbreak updates
Dr. Kinzang during second NICC meeting presented the outbreak updates

April 15, Thimphu: A bird flu outbreak has been reported at the Thimphu City camp in Motithang which has killed 16 poultry birds belonging to three households. The first poultry death was reported by one of the owners on 3 April following which a team from the National Centre for Animal Health (NCAH) visited the site for investigation.

The camp site has more than 30 semi-permanent structures with six households rearing local breed poultry birds for egg production. According to Dr. Kinzang Dukpa, the Program Director for NCAH, the initial testing of the two dead bird samples tested negative to rapid test. However, the samples tested at NCAH through polymerase chain reaction later on 6-7 April tested positive to influenza A, H5 and N1.

As per the international norms, six samples (five from affected area and one from nearby farm) were sent to the National Institute of High Security Animal Diseases, Bhopal which has confirmed the outbreak yesterday.

Prior to the confirmation, the immediate disease preventive measures like disinfection, decontamination and surveillance of the nearby poultry farms were already in place. A team was also there to follow up on any new cases while another team was sent outside the affected area to avoid further expansion.

While talking to the poultry owners, they shared that their parent stock were introduced two to four years ago and were reared locally in the camp. During the investigation, the NCAH team noticed no typical clinical signs of bird flu; it was in sub-clinical form which is more risky according to Dr. Kinzang Dukpa.

For safety, the movement of poultry and poultry products from the camp has been restricted and awareness is being created to the locals. The public health officials have been also alerted to monitor the local’s health at camp site including the school children.

The outbreak was discussed during an emergency meeting of the National Incident Command Centre (NICC) held on 10 April. The meeting highlighted that no new death cases after the last reported on 4 April. Further, 16 birds with other three poultry owners were still healthy with no signs of sickness and under strict observation. None of the people in the area had any health problem including those who have handled poultry birds.

The meeting also noted the concerns on the late arrival of sample report from Bhopal. On this, the Livestock Department has been directed to explore the possibilities to receive immediate action. Considering the milder nature of the infection, the meeting had decided that culling of the remaining birds will be considered should there be any new poultry deaths in the affected area.

As the outbreak has been confirmed, the NICC members met again today and decided to start the 3D operation (Depopulation, Disposal and Decontamination) as per the protocols.

According to Dr. Tenzin from NCAH, the birds were put under strict quarantine since April 10 and are still healthy with no sign of bird flu symptoms. ‘But considering the high risk involved, it is better to follow the protocols for safety’ he added.

Further, the active surveillance in and around Thimphu is in full swing covering around 6000 numbers of birds in backyard and semi-commercial farms as of now. The BAFRA has also placed foot dips at entry and exit points of the affected area to control the spread of disease.

The second NICC meeting also noticed the outbreak being reported mostly in backyard farms, the last outbreak in 2012 was also in one of the back yard farms in Kala Bazaar. It is expected that the Ministry may once again request Thromde not to allow the rearing of poultry birds within the town premises to avoid risk of human infection.

Although, the source of outbreak is not yet known, the situation is under control with immediate support from all the stakeholders including BAFRA, police, disaster management, public health, Thromde and others. The Ministry has declared the outbreak through a public notification requesting the general public not to get alarmed and extend their full support during the 3D operation.

Tshering Doma with photo by Tandin Norbu, ICS

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