Medicine being administered to an ailing peacock at the Sindh Poultry Vaccine Centre on Saturday. -- White Star

KARACHI, July 28: The aggressive pattern of the Newcastle disease virus over the last two years in Thar shows that the virus is likely to emerge in a more lethal form next year and there is a dire need for vaccination of captive birds against the disease across the province, especially in Karachi where a large number of people keep birds as pets, say experts at the government-run Sindh Poultry Vaccine Centre (SPVC), which is part of the Poultry Research Institute.

The centre recently tested some samples taken from affected peacocks and confirmed that it was the Newcastle disease virus (NDV) that was killing the birds. The disease has already killed over 80 peacocks in Thar, according to media reports.

Government officials, however, put the death toll at nine.

Five of the six NDV-hit birds brought to the centre in Karachi have fully recovered; three of them have since been sent back to their native areas and the condition of the two others is stable but they are under further treatment at the centre. The sixth one is in a critical condition.

The centre has provided 13,000 doses of the NDV vaccine to the officials engaged in handling the syndrome in Thar.

“Last year, too, the same disease killed many peacocks, though the exact toll could not be verified. This year, the loss seems to be much higher. And it is very likely that the virus could emerge in a more lethal form next year,” says SPVC director Dr Nazeer Hussain Kalhoro.

There is a dire need for vaccinating captive birds against the disease not only in Thar but in the entire province, especially in Karachi where many people keep birds as pets in their houses, he says. “As for commercial poultry in Karachi, people are aware of the threat and are vaccinating their animals. In fact, we have recently averted an outbreak of the Newcastle disease at poultry farms at the Hawkesbay and Gadap areas after the virus was timely detected and tackled,” claims the expert.

Dr Kalhoro is currently engaged in the process of complete profiling of the disease that includes the identification of the specific strain of virus, which, he says, will help calculate the disease pattern and design a preventive strategy for the next year.

“Research is still under way. However, the birds are responding positively to the vaccine being administered to them and that is for ‘Mukteswar (NDV)’ strain which caused a loss of Rs7 billion to commercial poultry in Punjab a few months ago. This is the most dangerous strain,” he explained.

“The other strain of Newcastle disease virus found in Pakistan is ‘LaSota’ while another strain ‘Komarov’ has been eradicated through vaccination in the past at national level,” he said, adding that the vaccine being given to affected birds effectively tackled both the prevailing strains.

He says that traces of ecoli and samonella bacteria were also found in the samples and this could be an indication of some infection.

According to him, NDV is a highly contagious viral disease of birds characterised by digestive, respiratory and/or nervous signs. The disease has been prevalent all the year round and birds need to get vaccinated after every three to four months.

Sharing his observations, Dr Kalhoro said that recent peacock deaths had also to do with the delayed monsoon that had caused drought-like conditions in the desert areas. “The presence of NDV shows that the nutritional level of the bird remained very low. The bird was under stress probably because of intense summer heat and may be suffering from other infections. Peahens are found to be more vulnerable,” he said.

Regarding the condition of the three peahens currently under treatment at the centre, he said the condition of the two was stable. “When the two birds were brought to the centre four days ago, they could not even stand on their feet but now they can.

Their gastrointestinal system is also improving. They have been vaccinated and provided doses of multivitamins,” he said.

According to Dr Kalhoro, there are 30 to 40 per cent chances of the survival of the third peahen that is yet to be vaccinated.

“When she was brought here three days back, her condition was so bad that I had to check her heartbeat to see whether she is alive. Although the bird has improved, she has to show more improvement in order to get the positive affect of vaccination,” he said.

Giving his input, Dr Aslam Jalali of the Poultry Research Institute said: “One cannot vaccinate all birds in the wild but when domestic birds are vaccinated regularly against the disease, chances of an outbreak are significantly reduced.”

Sindh Wildlife Department conservator Saeed Akhtar Baloch told Dawn that the media was spreading wrong information about the toll, claiming that only nine peacocks had been confirmed to have died.

“They need to show us the carcasses of the birds to verify their claims,” he said. “Only three villages — Hoti Jo Tar, Gullo Jo Tar and Bapuhar — have been affected and our teams are stationed there. The birds are getting medicines and multivitamins mixed in their feed and the water they consume.”


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