Bihar State – Credit Wikipedia
Last winter India was plagued with numerous stories of wild bird die offs that were largely blamed on the avian flu virus (see Media Report: H5N1 Killing Crows In Jharkhand).
While it is fair to say that the H5N1 virus was widely suspected, it is not clear how many were actually confirmed by laboratory testing.
On February 6th,2012 official notification was made to the OIE of H5N1 virus detections in crows from four states; Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Orissa, and Bihar.
By the end of spring, reports of fresh H5N1 outbreaks in poultry - and wild bird die offs - came to a close in India, and the subject of bird flu dropped off the front pages. With the return of fall weather, however, the bird flu virus is back in the news (see Bangalore, India: H5N1 in Turkeys).
And today we’ve a report – once again from Bihar – of a fresh bird die-off, although this time the victims are not crows, but pigeons.
At this point, no testing has been done, so the cause of this die off is not known. H5N1 is a possibility, but by no means is it the only one.
Pigeons are generally regarded as being far less susceptible to the H5N1 virus than many other bird species (see Role of Terrestrial Wild Birds in Ecology of Influenza A Virus (H5N1), but they are not completely immune.
Earlier this year (see WHO Updates H5N1 In Egypt & Indonesia), two human H5N1 deaths in Indonesia were linked to direct contact with pigeons. Other pigeon-related cases from the past include:
- In February of 2006, a 14 year-old pigeon handler in Iraq reportedly died from H5N1
- The April 2006 CDC's EID Journal Avian Influenza H5N1 in Naturally Infected Domestic Cats, describes a domestic cat that died after eating an infected pigeon.
- In May of 2006, a 39 year-old man died after reportedly cleaning pigeon feces from blocked roof gutters at his home.
Any mass bird die off in an area where the H5N1 virus is endemic is worthy of investigation, but there are many other diseases that can kill pigeons. The Paramyxovirus (PMV) which has recently caused such a stir among pigeon fanciers in Australia and Newcastle virus are just two.
And pigeons (along with other terrestrial birds) may be affected by environmental factors, such as pesticides, and contaminated feed.
With all of these caveats, here is the report from the Times of India, which includes the somewhat unusual speculation from a veterinarian that faulty `mobile phone towers’ may be responsible for these deaths.
IANS | Nov 5, 2012, 05.41PM IST
PATNA: More than five hundred pigeons suddenly dropped dead at a village in Bihar's Bhagalpur district over the last four days, causing residents, some of them pigeon-keepers, to fear that something was amiss.
District officials are still to visit the site and conduct an inquiry.
Over 500 pigeons died mysteriously in Bath village near Sultanganj in Bhagalpur, about 250 km from the state capital.
The history in India has been that officials are often slow to investigate reports of bird deaths, in poultry, and in the wild. Often, by the time an investigation is launched, the birds have been incinerated or are too decomposed, to examine.
So we’ll have to wait to see what, if any, answers are forthcoming on this event.