Indian Vulture Crisis Continues
From Patricia Doyle, PhD

Hello Jeff...

Much illness especially with regard to nonendemic disease emergence is man made. Some illness, like WNV (LIKE) and SARS came from labs, and other illness is directly result of man's tampering with nature and his careless use of the environment and his pollution. The two articles below represent this cause. I also believe that the use of depleted uranium and direct environmental impact of war will cause still more outbreaks.

It does appear that the vultures in India are dying due to overuse of veterinary pain relief compound (diclofenac) now found widely polluting the environment. This compound is also in the US environment and in our soil and water. Might very well contribute to mad cow.

As for mystery illness of children, it appears that pentacholophenol, a chemical is the cause of the mystery illness and death in children. Here again, man's irresponsible use of harmful chemicals and toxins to blame.


A ProMED-mail post

ProMED-mail is a program of the

International Society for Infectious Diseases


Date: Thu, 12 Jun 2003

From: Conor Kretsch <>

The article in 'The Hindu' daily from 1 Jun 2003 probably refers to the work recently carried out by Dr. J. Lindsay Oaks, a US veterinarian with the College of Veterinary Medicine at Washington State University, who has established experimentally that at least some vultures in India have died of diclofenac toxicity, which causes renal failure in the birds (also a potential but rare side-effect in humans). He recently discussed his findings at the 6th World Conference on Birds of Prey and Owls, held on 18-23 May 2003 in Budapest, Hungary. [See summary with main points in [2] & [3] below].

India has the largest livestock population in the world. Diclofenac sodium is widely administered by veterinarians in India in analgesic, antirheumatic and antimicrobial preparations. Dead livestock (potentially laden with diclofenac, if they died from or with an illness for which it was administered) are usually left out in the open for removal by vultures -- the quickest, cheapest, easiest and most efficient natural disposal method.

There are some questions still to be answered: If diclofenac is the cause, why only now, and why has it not affected other scavenging birds or mammals to the same extent?

Dozens of research projects throughout Europe and the USA have demonstrated the presence of a wide range of pharmaceutical compounds in the aquatic and terrestrial environments, and diclofenac is one of the most commonly found drugs in environmental samples. For many drug compounds, a large portion of the administered dose is not completely metabolised by the body, and the active compound is excreted either whole or only partially metabolised, entering sewage systems, or in the case of livestock, reaching soil and surface waters via manure deposited on the ground. Drug molecules and their metabolites are often not broken down in sewage treatment plants, and so are discharged in sewage plant effluent to surface waters, or with sewage sludge which is spread onto fields as fertiliser or disposed of in landfills. The removal rate of diclofenac in tertiary treatment plants can be as low as 16 percent.

India has a high population density, and many sewage treatment plants are low- grade (primary or secondary treatment only) or otherwise inefficient. The availability of diclofenac has increased greatly in recent years due to numerous market factors. There is widespread abuse of the prescription laws which should restrict drug sales, with poor dose controls for humans and livestock, and this has arguably become more widespread in the past 5 years. Consequently diclofenac use is high, with potentially significant (for vultures) environmental concentrations -- both in livestock and in natural waters. The situation is similar in parts of Cambodia, Nepal and Pakistan. However if reports of a vulture decline in Afghanistan and Europe are borne out, other questions will arise.

Regarding other species of scavengers, some have apparently been affected in small numbers. However, it is likely that vultures have been more susceptible because they are usually the first to arrive at a carcass, and do so in such numbers that other scavengers generally have to wait until the vultures have eaten their fill before they can feed, by which time most of the soft organs where diclofenac would be concentrated have been eaten. It could be argued that with a reduction in vulture numbers, other scavengers should now be susceptible. However, many species can't penetrate the hides of livestock carcasses, and would normally have to wait for vultures to do most of the work -- indicated by the numbers of carcasses now left to decay in the south Asian countryside. Those species which are benefiting from the abundance of carcasses -- feral dogs and rats -- may be physiologically more tolerant of exposure to diclofenac, though I doubt that many wild rats or dogs in India have been examined for renal complications...

There is also the question of the disposal of unused diclofenac (and indeed, other pharmaceuticals) in India. If large amounts have gone to landfill, where vultures are common scavengers, then this is another potential route of exposure. If we assume that diclofenac is the culprit, it may in fact not be the only toxicant involved -- there must certainly be a range of pharmaceuticals and other chemicals to which these birds have been exposed. Perhaps diclofenac on its own would not have had such a significant impact?

Discussions of pharmaceuticals in the environment may be found on the US EPA website <>, and at <>. The environmental occurrence of diclofenac is discussed in several references listed in these web sites.

An interesting discussion of pharmaceutical marketing practices in India was published in the Wall Street Journal in August 2001 and can be found at <>; or on the Pharm-Policy listserver at <>.


Conor E Kretsch

Consultant Environmental Scientist


4 The Plaza,

Swords, Co. Dublin,



Web: <>

[These much-needed clarifications and background, kindly supplied by Conor

Kretsch, are gratefully appreciated. - Mod. AS].



Date: Fri, 13 Jun 2003

From: Conor Kretsch <>

Source: The Hawk Conservancy and Country Park web-site [edited]


New light shed on Indian Vulture Crisis


The widespread mortality and decline of 3 vulture species (_Gyps bengalensis_, _Gyps indicus_ and _Gyps tenuirostris_) in southern Asia has been a cause of concern since widely reported in 1999. Following observed declines in western India, there were reports of further vulture mortalities in Pakistan, as well as other parts of India. The extent of these declines varies, but all are significant. At 3 sites in Pakistan, estimates of the decline in numbers of breeding vultures are between 33 & 97 percent. Survey transects conducted across India suggest population declines in the region of 92 percent.

Suggested causes have included pesticides, persecution, a novel infectious disease, and habitat loss. Until recently, the identification of a single cause has been elusive. A common finding among field workers has been the presence of visceral gout in many dead vultures, with up to 80 percent of adult vultures examined post mortem having shown these symptoms. Efforts have concentrated on establishing the cause of this condition.

At the recent 6th World Conference on Birds of Prey and Owls in Budapest, Hungary (18-23 May 2003), there was a report of significant new findings. Dr Lindsay Oakes (Washington State University), an investigator with The Peregrine Fund (USA), highlighted the role of Diclofenac Sodium, a non- steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, in relation to vulture mortalities. Based on these results, it appears that the proximal cause of visceral gout in affected vultures is this widespread veterinary drug. Contamination of vultures occurs following the consumption of deceased domestic stock previously treated with Diclofenac.

To address the crisis, reactive strategies could include an attempted withdrawal of veterinary Diclofenac from general distribution, the development of in-country captive facilities and the re-establishment of wild populations through food provision and field monitoring.

However, given the rate of population declines, it is possible that such remedial objectives will be too late to avoid local extinctions. Despite the identification of an obvious cause of vulture mortalities, the current situation and immediate prognosis for these species remain critically unfavourable.

The European population is therefore highly significant. For a start, the vultures in Europe have lived there for at least 15 years, and are therefore unaffected by the problems currently afflicting wild populations.

Although the likelihood of any future captive population being used for release is very small, if non-existent, the poor status of wild populations means that the zoological population has a definite role to play as a 'safety net'. A new captive care and management facility has been opened in Haryana State (northern India), and if in situ organisations develop more of these types of facility, it is likely that the captive population will have an important conservation role to play into the future.

[Byline: Campbell Murn]



Date: Thu, 12 Jun 2003

From: Ron Rees Davies <>

Selected paragraphs from: REPORT ON THE 6th RAPTOR WORLD CONFERENCE in Budapest (Hungary) By B.-U. Meyburg & R. D. Chancellor

The outstanding topic of the conference was the population crash of 3 _Gyps_ vulture species in Southern Asia, particularly in India and Pakistan.

Almost one whole day of the vulture session was devoted to this, followed by a Round Table discussion. Since the disappearance in India of these vultures, which only a few years ago occurred in huge numbers and which anyone not directly concerned could scarcely have conceived possible, the cause has been frantically sought. A lethal virus together with pesticides was assumed, but without any direct evidence.

The American veterinarian J. Lindsay Oaks and his colleagues have shown that the cause is to be found in a kidney failure brought about by Diclofenac. This is an analgesic and antirheumatic drug extensively prescribed for humans for a long time. For several years, in India and Pakistan, it has been widely used to treat the livestock which [when dead] form the basic food of the vultures. It had been proved experimentally that this in turn affected the three _Gyps species_. Thus Diclofenac, which can also engender serious side- effects in humans, is in fact the direct cause, borne out, for example, by the fact that the vultures in Bombay, which fed on the corpses put out by the Parsees on their Towers of Silence, already disappeared long ago.

It remains unclear why other carrion-eating raptors such as the other vulture species, kites and eagles are not affected. Much further research is needed on this subject. Martin Gilbert <> of the Peregrine Fund summarised all that was known about Diclofenac and undertook to seek further information. Whether and how its application to livestock can be reduced is the next all-important question to be tackled.

-- Ron Rees Davies, BVSc., CertZooMed., MRCVS. The Exotic Animal Centre,

12, Fitzilian Avenue,

Harold Wood,

Romford, Essex. UK. RM3 0QS



[More data on the experiments carried out by the Washington State University group will be helpful in assessing the significance of the newly published etiology. Several questions yet to be answered have been mentioned in Conor Kretsch's commentary.

The definite cause of the vultures die-off in the Indian sub-continent remains debatable, according to other researchers -- whose opinion, at least until recently, was that "the chief suspect is a viral disease" -- see <>. - Mod. AS].

[see also:

Vulture die-off - India: RFI 20030612.1447

Vulture die-off - India, Pakistan, Nepal 20030212.0375

Rabies and vulture die-off - India 20030207.0329



Vulture die-off - India, Pakistan, Nepal (04) 20021018.5590

Vulture die-off - India, Pakistan, Nepal (03) 20021015.5557

Vulture die-off - India, Pakistan, Nepal (02) 20021014.5552

Vulture die-off - India, Pakistan, Nepal: RFI 20021010.5514



Vulture die-off - India (04) 20010210.0273



Vulture die-off - India (03) 20000922.1637

Vulture die-off - India (02) 20000920.1619

Vulture die-off - India 20000530.0867]





A ProMED-mail post


ProMED-mail is a program of the

International Society for Infectious Diseases


Date: 14 Jun 2003

From: Daniel L Sudakin MD MPH <>

(via Gary Greenberg <>)

If chemical factors are considered in the etiology of these cases, the clinical description is consistent with acute exposure to pentachlorophenol (particularly high fever, and rapid progression to life threatening symptoms). There have been several historical accounts of acute poisoning caused by exposure to pentachlorophenol. In 1967, a cluster of cases of critical illness in a newborn nursery occurred as a result of the misuse of sodium pentachlorophenate as an antimildew agent in the hospital laundry, resulting in 9 cases and 2 fatalities. In these cases, exposure was thought to have occurred across intact skin <>.

There are also reports of systemic intoxication in adults from occupational exposure across intact skin. A consistent finding that has been described on autopsy of fatal cases is the immediate onset of extreme rigor mortis, which is considered a hallmark of pentachlorophenol poisoning (Jorens PG, Schepens PJ. Human pentachlorophenol poisoning, Hum Exp Tox 1993; 12: 479-95, Gray RE, Gilliand RD, Smith EE, et al Pentachlorophenol intoxication: report of a fatal case, with comments on the clinical course and pathologic anatomy. Arch Env Health 1985; 40(3): 16104, Mason MF, Wallace SM, Foerster E, et al. Pentachlorophenol poisoning: report of two cases J Forens Sci 1965; 10: 136-7).


Daniel L Sudakin MD MPH
Assistant Professor (Principal Investigator, National Pesticide Medical
Monitoring Program)
Department of Environmental and Molecular Toxicology
Oregon State University
333 Weniger
Corvallis, OR 97331-6502

Patricia A. Doyle, PhD
Please visit my "Emerging Diseases" message board at:
Zhan le Devlesa tai sastimasa
Go with God and in Good Health




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