India’s current avian flu outbreak highlights environmental, animal-human interplay considerations

India’s current avian flu outbreak highlights environmental, animal-human interplay considerations

Common monitoring of untamed aquatic birds and the wild bird-poultry-wetland interface is crucial to understanding avian influenza viruses’ prevalence.

By Sahana Ghosh

As avian flu swept by way of India in the direction of the tip of 2020 and early 2021, states scrambled to step up vigil and measures to regulate the unfold of the illness. The 2020/2021 outbreak, marked by the numerous involvement and mortality of untamed birds, has spotlighted the necessity for proactive monitoring of animal illness within the setting, conserving unprotected wetland habitats to curb illness unfold, and addressing information gaps just like the wild waterfowl–poultry interface.

Avian Influenza (AI) is a extremely contagious viral illness that impacts each home and wild birds. AI happens worldwide, and totally different strains are extra prevalent in sure areas of the world than others. Based on the World Organisation for Animal Well being, wild aquatic birds, corresponding to geese, shorebirds, and wild geese, are the pure reservoirs of influenza A viruses. AI viruses are broadly labeled as low pathogenic AI (LPAI) and extremely pathogenic AI (HPAI) viruses, primarily based on their pathogenicity.

The most recent fowl flu outbreak in poultry and wild birds spanned 14 Indian states/Union Territories from Jammu and Kashmir within the north to Kerala within the south. Haryana, Maharashtra, Punjab, and Kerala had been notably severely affected. The most recent outbreak concerned extremely pathogenic viral strains H5N1 and H5N8, in accordance to the Indian authorities.

“Avian influenza and different zoonotic illnesses are within the setting, and as human actions encroach pure habitats and environments utilized by wild species, the chance of transmission will increase. We have now reached a stage the place we should proactively improve monitoring of untamed fowl and animal illness in our surroundings to behave as an early warning system of change/arrival of potential illnesses,” Taej Mundkur, Worldwide Waterbird Census Coordinator and Senior Technical Officer, Wetlands Worldwide (The Netherlands), advised Mongabay-India.

“Such a surveillance programme must be developed by way of organising year-round passive and lively surveillance at a community of places throughout the nation. This may permit us to be higher ready and reply when a brand new pathogen or new pressure of a recognized pathogen arrives,” stated Mundkur, including that the One Well being framework, in its broadest sense, goals to enhance the well being of people, agriculture, and wildlife/setting and recognises this internet of interconnections and interactions throughout our planet earth.

Indias recent avian flu outbreak highlights environmental animalhuman interaction concerns

Chart from Farah Ishtiaq.

The Ramsar Conference on Wetlands and the Conference on Migratory Species and the Scientific Process Power on Avian Influenza and Migratory Birds have supplied invaluable worldwide steering on responses/actions to avian influenza within the wild birds-wetland interface, provides Mundkur. They embrace guaranteeing that there isn’t any consideration of killing wild birds, spraying poisonous merchandise, or negatively affecting wetland habitats as illness management measures, steering on illness management measures are related for each Ramsar websites and all different protected and unprotected wetlands and rising biosecurity of wetland website.

India has emerged as a worldwide hotspot for HPAI H5N1, whereas additionally offering important wintering habitat for a lot of species of migratory waterfowl and year-round habitat for a number of resident waterfowl species. The nation lies on the coronary heart of the Central Asian Flyway (CAF), which spans 30 nations and covers 279 populations of 182 migratory waterbird species that depend on wetlands alongside the flyway, together with the Pong Dam wetlands (Pong Lake Wildlife Sanctuary), a Ramsar website, the place giant scale mortalities of long-distance migratory birds corresponding to bar-headed geese, first alerted biologists in December 2020.

Stories of deaths of over 2000 birds at Pong Lake in Himachal Pradesh had been adopted by alerts of peacock mortalities in Maharashtra, deaths of lapwings close to Kharo Dam in Gujarat’s Junagadh district, and jungle crows in Uttarakhand. Upon affirmation of the avian flu outbreak, a complete of 4,49,271 poultry birds had been culled until February 12, 2021, to regulate the illness unfold, as per the Nationwide Motion Plan for Prevention, Management, and Containment of Avian Influenza. India’s poultry sector is valued at about Rs. 80,000 crore and employs over 10 lakh farmers.

Indias recent avian flu outbreak highlights environmental animalhuman interaction concerns

A flock of waterbirds in an city wetland. Monitoring poultry-wildbird-wetlands interface is essential to check avian influenza. Picture by Christy Bharath.

Addressing information gaps

Information gaps stay within the nature of the wild waterfowl–poultry interface and the sharing of various wetland habitat amongst these birds.

Evolutionary ecologist Farah Ishtiaq underscored the necessity for a well-designed research to display poultry and home waterfowl for low pathogenic viruses. “We lack such knowledge,” Ishtiaq advised Mongabay-India. “Excessive species range and low water temperature are recognized to boost virus survival in sure elements of the world. Nevertheless, within the Indian context, poultry performs an enormous position in circulating the virus all year long. Due to this fact, there have been experiences of outbreaks in nonseason time as properly,” added Ishtiaq, senior scientist at Tata Institute for Genetics and Society. She careworn on fast testing for confirming the reason for dying of untamed birds. “Viruses are very delicate to temperature and RNA degrades actually quick with a rise in temperature. We want a simplified system to display such samples in real-time because the circumstances are reported to determine the trigger and viral pressure,” stated Ishtiaq.

Based on panorama epidemiologist Michael Walsh, co-author of a 2020 research that systematically investigated the extent of the interface between wild waterfowl and poultry and its affect on the chance of HPAI H5N1 outbreaks in India, there was proof of interplay between poultry and wild waterfowl regarding H5N1 outbreaks.

Indias recent avian flu outbreak highlights environmental animalhuman interaction concerns

The sharing of water sources in wetland habitat is prime to understanding the wild waterfowl–poultry interface and the avian influenza virus, subtype H5N1. This virus infects, and is shed by, the intestinal tract of each waterfowl and poultry and thus the water our bodies utilized by these birds can function a typical automobile for waterborne transmission in processes of each spillover and spillback. Chart from Walsh, Michael G., Extremely Pathogenic Avian Influenza (H5N1) Panorama Suitability Varies by Wetland Habitats and the Diploma of Interface between Wild Waterfowl and Poultry in India (mdpi, 2020).

“Our outcomes confirmed that outbreak threat did enhance with rising poultry density, which is according to earlier research. Nevertheless, what we additionally confirmed (and what earlier research haven’t explored) is that when you think about the landscapes the place these poultry are held, outbreak threat was truly highest amongst low-density poultry holdings the place poultry had been in prime wild waterfowl habitat. Conversely, outbreak threat was larger amongst high-density poultry holdings solely when these holdings had been in areas the place the poultry had been least more likely to come into contact with wild waterfowl,” Walsh, on the College of Sydney, advised Mongabay-India.

The research additionally discovered that H5N1 outbreak incidence was larger with higher proximity particularly to lakes, rivers, and coastal wetlands. These findings present particular factors within the panorama which may be good targets for interrupting the biking of avian influenza viruses, for instance, by blocking the mixed-use of floor water by home poultry and wild waterfowl.

Whereas the emphasis must be on monitoring a number of waterbird websites of native, nationwide, and worldwide significance, surveillance is difficult by the character of the poultry-wildbird-wetlands interface. “The story will not be easy; home birds in an contaminated space are interacting with wild birds and a few of these birds could also be resident or migratory; the setting will be contaminated so you may have these interactions taking place in an space the place there may be an an infection,” defined Mundkur.

“As poultry themselves don’t fly round, the virus will be carried within the commerce of poultry/poultry merchandise, pet birds, and in gear (fomites) between farms and from the farms to wetlands and to markets. As soon as the virus is launched right into a wetland, it might probably infect migratory or home birds, and from the place the virus can transfer to a different space by way of native actions of those birds. This will likely then reinfect poultry or resident birds. Moreover, the virus could also be picked up by predatory birds or raptors in the event that they feed on lifeless or dying contaminated wild birds or poultry.”

There are lots of totally different peculiarities in coping with the virus, and understanding the state of affairs in an space is especially vital, he noticed.

Farah Ishtiaq provides that unprotected wetlands are beneath fixed strain from urbanisation and air pollution. With the lack of habitat and enhance in poultry, the wildbird and poultry buffer has decreased and elevated interplay and change of viruses – not simply spillover however most likely spillback from poultry as properly, she stated.

Kamal Saini, an assistant zoologist at Zoological Survey of India’s Excessive Altitude Regional Centre at Solan, Himachal Pradesh, was a part of the staff that did an preliminary survey of Pong Dam wetlands in January following experiences of mass dying of migratory birds. He noticed lifeless bar-headed geese, pochards, pin-tail, black stilt, sand plovers, mallard, spot-billed duck, coot, widespread teal, lapwing, amongst others at Pong.

“We noticed the bar-headed geese making an attempt to method the land from the water, fall, squirm for a couple of minutes, after which drop lifeless. This was earlier than avian influenza was confirmed. The forest division had put in place restrictions. After the birds die, their carcasses are attacked by predators like stray canine, black kites, and tawny eagles; they might carry the virus to distant wild and domesticated animals,” Saini advised Mongabay-India. So it stays a problem for the division to bury the carcass earlier than these predators assault them. “Moreover, the bar-headed geese which might be unable to succeed in the financial institution, and die on the water could pose one other risk to people by way of consumption of affected fish,” he stated.

Saini noticed that yearly hundreds of winter migratory birds, such because the bar-headed goose, make a pit cease at Pong Dam and different wetlands on their journey from Central Asia, Tibet, Russia, Siberia, Mongolia and any modifications in habitat high quality can push them to search for various habitats.

Bar-headed goose (Anser indicus) is a long-distance migrant to the Indian subcontinent, with its main inhabitants breeding in China. There’s a small breeding inhabitants in Ladakh, Mongolia, and Kyrgyzstan. Migrating bar-headed geese have been reported from many protected and non-protected wetlands of Assam, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Maharashtra.

“This 12 months their stoppages at Sukhna lake in Chandigarh had been decreased, however they had been seen in good numbers in small ponds in Haryana which implies that defending habitat high quality even in these small water our bodies is important,” stated Saini.

Researchers at Bangor College collaborating with a big worldwide staff of researchers, reported in 2011 that bar-headed geese can fly as much as 6,000 m in solely 8 hours whereas passing over the Himalayan mountain vary – an identical intense climb may kill a human with out prolonged acclimatisation. “When the birds arrive right here they’re subjected to fatigue following their lengthy flight and they’re extra prone to the an infection,” suspects Bivash Pandav, director, Bombay Pure Historical past Society (BNHS), including that the poultry and piggeries are probably the most prone to the virus.

“Most of those wetlands the place you see migratory birds are unprotected websites, so involving communities in wetland administration is crucial,” Pandav advised Mongabay-India.

Pandav reiterates common well being monitoring and sampling of untamed birds in chosen wetland spots to get a way of the illness prevalence and the strains. “In any other case, we attempt to do all this when the mortalities happen. At BNHS, now we have been capturing and ringing birds in numerous elements of the nation. However we try to include the illness monitoring element into our ringing programme. We’re in search of monetary assist for the evaluation of the samples,” added Pandav.


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Mongabay-India is an environmental science and conservation information service. This text has been republished beneath the Artistic Commons license.

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