India may record its first human bird flu cases if five persons in West Bengal, under observation for displaying "clinical symptoms" associated with the infection after handling backyard poultry, are confirmed to be afflicted with the disease. All five are residents of Murshidabad, one of seven West Bengal districts to have been hit by the deadly H5N1 virus in its latest outbreak in India, and have been quarantined and administered Tamiflu – the most effective antibiotic against avian influenza. Investigations revealed that the men had handled backyard poultry soon after the disease infected and killed birds.
The outbreak has been traced to small pens maintained by individuals rather than large farms. The men reported influenza-like symptoms including fever, cough, sore throat and muscle ache. Some of them are also suspected to be suffering from respiratory illness like pneumonia. A special team from the National Institute of Virology (NIV), Pune, collected blood and throat samples of the patients on Sunday.
They are being tested by scientists at the National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases (NICED), Kolkata, and
Experts say the H5N1 strain could mutate into a form easily transmitted from person to person, leading to a pandemic. "We are taking all precautionary measures and checking human samples with symptoms of cough and cold," said A.C. Mishra of the National Institute of Virology in Pune. Central government authorities have confirmed H5N1 infections in only two of the seven districts, based on time-consuming tests from