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Dr Samuel Jutzi, director of the Food and Agricultural Organisation's Animal Production and Health Division, Rome, says there is no cause for panic after the bird flu outbreak in India.
The United Nations official believes that the Indian system should be in a position to tackle the outbreak effectively.
"India has a mature veterinary service which should be well-prepared to tackle this outbreak," he said.
Dr Jutzi spoke over the telephone to Deputy Managing Editor Ramananda Sengupta .
India has just become the latest country to be hit by an outbreak of bird-flu. Is there cause for panic?
We would always advise that there is no cause for panic, despite the fact that it may indeed damage the poultry industry substantially. However, the earlier action is taken the lower the damage.
I would particularly advise the media to ensure that consumers should not be panicking.
There is no reason not to consume poultry products, there is no justification for panic among consumers -- poultry products are safe to eat, provided suitable precautions are taken.
In your opinion, given its huge population, size and indifferent health care network, can India tackle this outbreak effectively?
We believe that the Indian system should be in a position to tackle this effectively.
India has a mature veterinary service which should be well-prepared to tackle this outbreak. But people need to be informed about the crucial importance of basic hygiene, like washing hands after touching poultry and disinfecting shoes etc before entering or leaving a poultry farm.
Poultry should, if possible, be kept under a roof to prevent contact with wild birds, and chickens should not be allowed to mix with other species, like ducks etc.
What immediate steps should the government take to prevent this from turning into a major outbreak? Will a total ban on the consumption of poultry products minimise human casualties?
As soon as an outbreak is identified, the area needs to be quarantined, and the veterinary services have to be called in for controlled culling.
The slaughter and handling of infected poultry poses the greatest risks. Good hygiene practices are a must to prevent exposure. Sick animals need to be culled and the perimeter around the area has to be sealed off. Markets around the neighborhood have to be closed.
But I would repeat, a ban on the consumption is not indicated. It is safe to eat poultry products.
What steps has the FAO/UN taken to assist India?
We have set up networks of diagnostic labs, and epidemology dedicated to H5N1, or Avian influenza. India is leading in this venture in South Asia, and a lab in Bhopal is in charge of supporting this network.
India set up this system a year ago when avian flu struck South-East Asia. The Bhopal testing and diagnostic facility is fully equipped to handle all necessary analyses. We have a colleague, Professor Mohinder Oberoi, who is coordinator of the South Asia HPAI network.
Can this virus be used as a biological weapon by unscrupulous elements?
Any infectious virus can be so used. But so far, there is no information that H5N1 has been used like this.
While it would be difficult to infect humans with it, it could cause huge economic losses to any nation if thus used.
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