The environment ministry has asked states to form monitoring committees for avian influenza amid an escalating fear of bird flu, the Hindustan Times reported on Wednesday. Thousands of birds, including migratory ones, have died since December across states.

In a letter to state chief secretaries and chief wildlife wardens, the Union ministry acknowledged the scare and asked states and Union Territories to take steps for containing its spread. “Samples have been tested at the ICAR-National Institute of High-Security Animal Diseases, Bhopal, and have been found to be positive for H5Nl Avian Influenza Virus,” the letter read. “...Take up surveillance and monitoring of birds, for any signs of disease, and take appropriate measures for controlling it, on priority.”

H5N1 is a type of influenza virus that causes a highly infectious, severe respiratory disease in birds called avian influenza, according to the World Health Organization. “Human cases of H5N1 avian influenza occur occasionally, but it is difficult to transmit the infection from person to person. When people do become infected, the mortality rate is about 60%,” read the WHO website.

According to the Centre’s advisory, samples of migratory, dead birds should be collected with utmost caution and under scientific supervision. It added that surveillance should be extended to all wetlands and habitats that host migratory birds and areas with any possibility of interaction of migratory and poultry birds.

“All deaths of migratory birds – their number and cause are to be reported to the environment ministry immediately,” the letter read. “Intensive surveillance should be undertaken to look for any unreasonable bird behaviour, or death among wild birds as well as migratory birds. Vigilance should be stepped up in the zoos also.”

The states have been asked to send weekly reports to the ministry. Till now, four states – Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh – have reported the infection.

In Himachal Pradesh, avian influenza or bird flu has been detected in the samples of 1,773 migratory birds found dead in the last week. In Madhya Pradesh, 376 crows died between December 23 and January 3. Animal Husbandry Minister Prem Singh Patel said that bird flu was confirmed in samples from Mandsaur and Indore.

Meanwhile in Rajasthan, over 170 bird deaths were reported on Monday, taking the total in the state to over 425. A bird flu outbreak has only been confirmed in the state’s Jhalawar district and reports for other areas are awaited. Avian influenza subtype H5N8, which experts believe is less infectious than H5N1, has been detected in the state’s Kota and Baran districts, according to PTI. Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot on Tuesday instructed officials to maintain special vigil. “Effective preventive measures should be ensured,” read a release quoting Gehlot. “Veterinarians and avian experts should analyse these incidents closely and keep ensure arrangements to prevent the situation from aggravating.”

In Kerala, around 12,000 ducks have died over the last few days. Bird flu has been confirmed in five of the eight samples sent to Bhopal. The outbreak has been classified as a state-specific disaster after cases emerged in two districts. Kerala has started culling of chickens and ducks across the state.

The Haryana Animal Husbandry and Dairy Department has issued an advisory over suspected spread of avian influenza virus, reported NDTV. Four lakh poultry birds have died in unusual circumstances in the last 10 days in 20 poultry farms in Panchkula district.

Jammu and Kashmir has sounded an alert and started collecting samples from migratory birds. Karnataka and Tamil Nadu too have stepped up surveillance and framed guidelines. The latter has banned influx of chicken and eggs from Kerala in view of the outbreak, and sounded alerts in the bordering areas.