What causes avian flu? Feeding pigeons!

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Cubbon authorities set the cat among the pigeons

The connection is lost on walking enthusiasts in the park. For added effect, horticulture authorities have warned that feeding pigeons will attract Rs 100 fine

If the timing of this notice were different, morning walkers at Cubbon Park might have thought the authorities were pulling a fast one on them. But the alarming nugget of information that greeted them on Saturday made most literally stop in their tracks.

“Feeding pigeon leads to bird flu disease; please avoid feeding pigeons. Warning: fine Rs 100,’’ stated a huge board near the Karnataka State Lawn Tennis Association junction, by the fountain.
The warning had its desired effect, and created an instant flutter, leading many to do a double take if they would now have to abandon a ritual they had carried on for years.
On second thoughts, though, people wondered if feeding pigeons could really lead to bird flu. No, say doctors, not really. But the horticulture department really had an ace up its sleeve when it came up with this one – authorities felt it would serve to deter people from standing on the road to feed the birds, as it was causing accidents.
As for fears of contracting bird flu, Dr Sudharshan Ballal, medical director, Manipal Hospital and a specialist in H1N1, says by and large feeding pigeons does not lead to bird flu. “Some of the birds’ excreta may contain the virus and, in a crowd, the infection could spread. But people don’t catch bird flu just by feeding pigeons. There is no need to get alarmed,’’ Dr Ballal explained.
Sanjay Sisodia, a businessman and a regular walker at Cubbon Park, has been feeding pigeons jowar and crows a homemade feed for the past 25 years. He was taken aback when he saw the board on Saturday morning and he hurried back home and googled to find that feeding pigeons and bird flu had no connection. “I have been feeding birds from the time they were in the high court garden. Now, they have shifted over to the other side, near the fountain and there are a lot of people who feed them. It was quite a shocker to see the board. World over, pigeons are fed in parks, including in Mumbai. I don’t understand what kind of knowledge the horticulture department officials have. This is stupidity,’’ he said.
In October last, Bangalore was witness to a massive outbreak of bird flu aka avian flu at the Central Poultry Development Organisation in Hesaraghatta area. Poultry was culled in large numbers to contain spread of virus. The virus was identified as Influenza H5N1 by the High Security Animal Disease Laboratory, Bhopal. As a preventive measure, the government declared a one-km radius as infected zone and a radius of 10 km from Hesaraghatta as observation zone. Sale of eggs, chicken and other forms of meat was banned in this 10-km radius for a while.
Bird flu outbreaks in domestic poultry is largely seen in parts of Asia and the Middle East and, unlike other types of flu, H5N1 usually does not spread among people.
Horticulture department deputy director in-charge of Cubbon Park, Suresh Chandra, who has recently taken over was instrumental in fixing the board on Saturday morning.
Apart from the fear of an outbreak, another motive is to scare people through the “information’’ as they stand on the road and feed pigeons.
“When people feed pigeons in a mass, they will get affected if the birds are carrying the flu virus. It will be difficult for us to control it. So it is a beware board,’’ says %Chandra adding, “People stand on the road in the park where vehicles are plying. One or two accidents have been reported, so we want to avoid mishaps.’’

He is a Software Engineer from Moodbidri currently living in Kuwait. He likes to travel and post interesting things about technology. He is the designer of Kannadigaworld.com. You may follow him on FB at fb.com/alanpaladka

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