An 11-year old boy became the first casualty of H5N1 avian influenza in the national capital on Wednesday sparking fear among people. While the avian influenza or bird flu has been found to be present among a large number of birds, migratory species across different parts of the country, this is the first recorded human death related to the disease in the country, the Indian Express reported. Thousands of birds in zoos and in their natural habitat were found to be infected with the avian influenza in January this year.
What is bird flu?
The disease which is caused by the presence of avian influenza Type A viruses are prevalent among wild birds in all parts of the world. While mostly the infection remains confined to the wild birds, sometimes the virus percolates to the poultry birds including chicken, ducks, turkeys causing fear as the poultry birds are in direct contact with humans. On the basis of variations in the protein constituents, different types of bird flu or avian influenza has been found prevalent among the birds including H5N1, H7N2, H9N6, H17N10.
Bird flu among humans
While the spread of bird flu to humans is possible, the spread has remained limited in the human population. It was in the year 1997 when the first case of H5N1 infection was reported. Currently, more than 700 cases of Asian Highly Pathogenic Asian Avian Influenza A (HPAI) H5N1 virus have been traced by the World Health Organisation (WHO) across 16 countries. While the spread of the virus has remained limited, the mortality among bird flu patients is as high as 60 percent which is many times the mortality rate among Covid-19 patients.
How does bird flu spread to humans?
The chances of the spread of the disease to humans increase among people who are in direct contact with the infected birds dead or alive. There are slight chances of contracting the disease even by coming in contact with the contaminated surfaces and breathing the polluted air of poultry. While the fear related to consumption of non-vegetarian food is understandable, scientists have not found any evidence of the disease spreading from a properly cooked meat dish.
AIIMS chief Dr. Randeep Guleria was quoted as saying by PTI that there are very rare chances of human-to-human spread of the disease. However he cautioned that people working closely with the poultry work must maintain personal hygiene.
Symptoms of avian influenza and Risk groups
Fever, cough, body ache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea are some of the most prominent symptoms of the disease. Severe respiratory problems can also arise in severe cases of the disease. Most cases of bird flu have been reported among children and those below the age of 40. Mortality rate was also slightly higher in case of infected children.