DHAKA, Feb 24 (Reuters) - Bird flu has spread to another district in Bangladesh despite massive culling by authorities to fight the deadly outbreak, officials said, bringing the number of affected districts to 44 out of the country’s 64.
The latest outbreak of H5N1 avian flu was detected in Munshiganj, 60 km (40 miles) from Dhaka, while the virus re-emerged in several other districts, livestock officials said on Sunday.
Nearly 911,000 birds have been culled to fight the virus since March 2007, but it continues to spread and now covers more than two-thirds of the impoverished country of more than 140 million people.
Bird flu has caused losses of about 45 billion taka ($650 million) to the poultry sector, which generates more than $1.8 billion annually, industry officials said.
"Nearly 90,000, or 60 percent of total poultry farms in the country, have been so far shut down due to the direct or indirect effect of bird flu, leaving around 150,000 people out of jobs," Syed Abu Siddeque, Secretary General of Bangladesh Poultry Industries Association, told Reuters.
"The government should come forward to save the growing sector by taking different steps, including giving the farmers soft loans and other assistance," Siddeque said.
No human bird flu cases have been reported in Bangladesh, a densely populated nation with millions of fowl kept in backyards, and thousands of chicken farms.
Experts fear the H5N1 strain could mutate or combine with the highly contagious seasonal influenza virus and spark a pandemic, especially in countries such as Bangladesh where people live in close proximity to backyard poultry.
Contact with sick fowl is the most common way of contracting bird flu. The virus has killed more than 230 people worldwide since 2003. (Reporting by Ruma Paul; Writing by Anis Ahmed; Editing by Jerry Norton)