KARACHI, Jan 31: While poultry farmers and officials concerned in the Sindh and Karachi city governments are waiting for test reports pertaining to the recent large-scale deaths of birds, a surveillance team on bird flu collected samples from another farm in Gadap Town on Thursday.

Sources in the poultry industry claimed that samples were drawn on Thursday from a poultry farm maintained by the Rangers in Gadap Town so that they could be sent to the National Reference Laboratory For Avian Influenza (bird flu), Islamabad.

In the meantime, some poultry producers and marketers continued making threatening calls to the family whose farm has been suspected of being infected with avian influenza (H5N1) virus for responding to media queries.

“The callers said that as we have ‘leaked’ the news to the media about the extraordinary number of deaths of commercial broiler birds and now we have to face the consequences,” said one of the family members. “Would it be viable, from the public health point of view, to suppress the deaths of thousands of birds in four days or so, while the incidence of bird flu cases are frequent now in other countries of the region?” wondered a member of the family that owned the affected poultry farm owner in Gadap.

Contrary to the initial calculations that the Islamabad-based bird flu lab would communicate the test results of the 10 samples taken from birds of the suspected poultry farm by Thursday night, nothing was received in Karachi by the time this report was filed.

Dr Aslam Jalali, the provincial surveillance officer on avian influenza, told Dawn on Thursday that he was continuously in contact with the lab authorities and any results on the samples that were despatched to Islamabad on Wednesday were likely to reach Karachi some time on Friday.

However, when contacted, an official concerned from the Islamabad lab said though the samples had been received and tests were in progress, he could not say exactly when the process would be completed. “It may take two, five or even seven days to diagnose the disease that hit the birds in the Gadap farm,” he said, requesting anonymity.

In regard to the bird flocks reportedly maintained by the Rangers, Dr Jalali said that the Rangers had contacted the livestock department for the purpose of sampling, following the deaths of a good number of birds in their farms, while the samples would be sent to Islamabad on Friday.

A source said that about one eighth of the Rangers’ flock had succumbed to some disease during the last one week and the breaking news about the large-scale deaths of birds in their neighbouring farms in Gadap compelled them to take the authorities concerned into confidence. The Rangers kept fowls numbering around 5,000, out of which 600-700 died recently.

Birds to be buried

The CDGK’s DO Poultry Asadullah Shah Bukhari said that in line with verbal instructions of the Sindh government’s director (poultry), his team had collected and bagged around 2,000 dead birds from the poultry farm from where bird samples were drawn a couple of days ago.

“We intend to dump or bury the bagged birds in an old, dry well present on the premises of the poultry farm late on Thursday night, while the culling of live birds would be executed only when a written letter, confirming the outbreak of bird flu in the farm, from the director is received by the district government,” he said.

It was further learnt that a team of students from a public sector university also visited the site of the private poultry farm in question on Thursday and drew samples for research purposes.

Independent sources said the government should move for an immediate survey of the poultry estate at Gadap to overcome the situation and ascertain the real cause of the deaths of birds in various farms there.

Former PMA general secretary Karachi, Dr Qaiser Sajjad, who is also the chairman of the medical committee of the Arts Council of Pakistan, observed that the authorities were failing to address the situation properly. He also pointed out that despite repeated demands from professionals and pledges by the authorities, a city like Karachi was short of any purposeful virology lab to detect, among other diseases, bird flu both in humans and birds.

In the meantime, the Sindh health department has once again reminded the executive district officers (health) in the province to remain vigilant about any case of human influenza in their respective districts.

Special Secretary, Public Health, Dr Abdul Majid said that EDOs had been asked to coordinate with other members of the joint committee on bird flu and send their surveillance report on a weekly basis.The department had also asked the EDOs to keep under observation the workers of suspected poultry farms and report to the department as well.

The Sindh government’s Director Poultry, Dr Ali Akbar Soomro, said that some more samples would be taken from birds belonging to private farms in Gadap on Friday. “It is understood that some virus had crept into the farms in Gadap Town. But its strength (H5, H7 or H9) is yet to be known,” he added.In the case of the farm in question, he said, he had information that 4,000 of a total of 6,000 birds had died due to the unnamed disease, while chances of culling of the remaining birds at the farm also existed, provided the reference lab for avian influenza conveys a positive report.

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