Bird Flu spread in India: Infection as a cause of worry in humans explained

By: |
January 13, 2021 12:09 PM

While the first bird flu cases were reported majorly in 2006 and India declared itself free of bird flu in September 2019, the country today is again amidst bird flu outbreak where several states have reported positive cases along with thousands of birds dying from it.

In birds, the flu is caused by Influenza type A virus called H5N1 and highly contagious among the species.

Bird Flu is a word which is not new to Indians anymore, thanks to frequent outbreaks ever since the infection surfaced over a decade ago. While the first bird flu cases were reported majorly in 2006 and India declared itself free of bird flu in September 2019, the country today is again amidst bird flu outbreak where several states have reported positive cases along with thousands of birds dying from it. Now this becomes a cause of concern as ten states and union territories now have to battle bird flu alongside the novel Coronavirus. The flu, also known as avian influenza has the potential to infect humans as well in some cases.

In birds, the flu is caused by Influenza type A virus called H5N1 and highly contagious among the species. First discovered in 1996 in geese in China, the virus has infected many birds and has been carried to many countries via migratory birds. The virus is shed by their droppings and infect birds (majorly poultry) where they go. Among 50 countries where the virus has been detected, the virus had been declared endemic in China, India, Egypt, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Bangladesh. In 1997, Hong Kong saw the first case where the infection was transmitted to humans. Those who are in close contact with livestock or dead birds contracted the infection. According to data provided by the World Health Organisation (WHO), 862 cases of avian influenza have been confirmed in humans so far where 455 people also died from it. This is cumulative data of avian influenza in humans since 2003 to 2020.

However, the data indicated that India did not report any transmission case in humans. While this may sound a bit relieving in terms of transmission to humans in India, one cannot completely rule out the possibility of it going forward. This influenza also has many strains with H5N1, H7N9 and H9N2 being highly pathogenic and easily transmissible to humans. In India, a majority of H5N1 cases have been reported. Therefore, it is better to take necessary precautions. If the virus is transmitted to humans and it mutates, having another pandemic can not be ruled out.

As ten states and union territories in India including Kerala, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Haryana, Delhi, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has asked all state governments to stay on alert and keep the primary focus on culling these birds. Officials at animal husbandry have been alerted to maintain strict measures near water bodies, zoos as well as poultry farms. Anyone dealing in poultry rearing, culling and collecting dead birds have been asked to use PPE kits. At many places, local authorities have put poultry supply on hold for some time.

Meanwhile, people have been scared to consume any poultry products. To this, officials have asked people to ensure that they should consume chicken and eggs when it’s fully cooked as the virus will not be able to sustain high temperatures.

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