Bird flu : Bad news predicted for NE
Source: The Sangai Express / PTI

Shillong, January 30: With the avian flu spreading fast in West Bengal, panic gripped Meghalaya today following a prediction by researchers about a possible "massive outbreak" of the disease in the North East.

A "prediction map" prepared by research associate Dr Dibyendu Adhikari and Arun Chettri of the Department of Botany, North Eastern Hill University (NEHU), which was made public today, claimed that some areas in Northeastern region were vulnerable to the H5N1 virus.

The map also highlighted areas in West Bengal, which has already been affected by the outbreak of the virus, and most districts of Bangladesh which had a "suitable environment for proliferation of the bird flu".

Though the map covers potential risk zones of bird flu in almost all Northeastern States, including Assam, Tripura, Manipur and Mizoram, the hilly areas in Meghalaya, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh have been identified as lower-risk zone.

Adhikari and Chettri said the prediction map of the potential risk areas of bird flu in the Northeastern India was made through the technique of Ecological Niche Modeling (ENM).

ENM involves using artificial intelligence algorithm called Genetic Algorithm for Rule-Set Prediction (GARP) along with the Geograhic Information System (GIS) technology, they said.

They called for precautionary measures like proper monitoring of the areas visited by migratory birds in Assam to check spread of avian influenza in the region.

In earlier studies, the technique successfully predicted the prevalence of infectious diseases like ebola, chagas, human monkeypox, malaria and dengue in different parts of the world, Adhikari and Chettri said.

The researchers said they had used 28 environmental parameters for modeling the distribution of the avian influenza virus in Northeastern India.

The predictions claimed that areas like Nalbari, Rangiya, Guwahati, Tezpur, Kamrup, Barpeta, Goalpara, Dhubri, Kokrajhar, Bongaigaon, Manas, Kaziranga, Udalguri, Karbi Anglong, Golaghat, Dhekiajuli, Rangapara, Nagaon and Diphu in Assam were likely to be affected by the flu virus.

"Further analysis shows that the predicted areas in Assam are mostly visited by migratory birds.

Proper monitoring of the areas is needed to check spread of bird flu," they said.

Veterinary officials, who were bombarded by queries from the people after the report was made public, brushed aside the predictions and said there was no such threat as of now.

"It is mere assumption.

We don't agree.

The report is bound to create panic.

We have taken necessary measures to ensure there is no outbreak of bird flu in the State," Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Director D Khonglah said.

"The veterinary department's map of the places visited by migratory birds contradict the one developed by the researchers," he said.

Meanwhile, the State has sent around 60 blood samples of chicken collected from different parts of the State for testing for bird flu virus to Bhopal.

"The report is likely to come in about four days," Khonglah said.