Explained: What Is Bird Flu? Is The Recent Outbreak Dangerous?

Bird flu has been reported in many states across India with lakhs of birds dying of the avian influenza virus.

Bird flu has been reported in many states across India with lakhs of birds dying of the avian influenza virus. Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan have confirmed the disease with bird flu deaths being reported in Gujarat, Punjab and Haryana.

Though the virus has not been reported in humans so far, authorities are stepping up efforts to contain the spread with lakhs of poultry birds being culled in various states.

What is Bird Flu?

Avian influenza, colloquially known as bird flu, is a disease which is caused by Flu Type A viruses. The viruses are found naturally in wild aquatic birds and can infect poultry birds.

Migratory birds like wild geese transmit the virus to domestic birds during their migration. The viruses are shed in the bird droppings when they fly disseminating the viruses.

The viruses are classified into two categories: low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI) A viruses, and highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) A viruses. While LPAI viruses are not fatal, HPAI viruses are severe. Of the numerous strains of HPAI viruses, human infections are caused by H5, H7 and H9 viruses.

Is bird flu harmful for humans and how does it transmit?

While rare, bird flu has been known to infect humans with symptoms ranging from conjunctivitis, flu, to severe respiratory illness and respiratory failure. The virus is mostly transmitted to humans if an individual breathes in virus is in the air or when they touch a surface contaminated with virus on it and then touch their mouth, eyes or nose.

The National Institute of High Security Animal Disease (NIHSAD) has identified two strains of influenza viruses so far - H5N8 and H5N1. Since these strains can be transmitted to humans, many states have resorted to culling birds to prevent further transmission.

Despite not being contagious to humans, bird flu is severe for humans. According to the World Health Organisation, there have been 861 human cases with 455 deaths between 2003 and 2020.

According to data published by the Department of Animal Husbandry and Dairying, the government had culled 74.3 lakh birds and paid out Rs 2622.77 lakhs as compensation as of 2015.

What is the current situation in India?

NISHAD has identified 12 epicentres of the disease in India. The disease has been identifed in crows in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, in migratory birds in Himachal Pradesh and poultry ducks in Kerala. No bird to human transmission has been reported so far.

Kerala has declared bird flu as a state disaster with state Animal Husbandry minister K Raju saying that over 69,000 ducks and chicken have been culled while 12,000 ducks have died. Bird feed and eggs have also been destroyed across the state. The state has also banned the sale of poultry and eggs.

The Kerala government will compensate poutlry farmers for culled birds and destroyed eggs. For each culled bird aged over two-months, farmer will be granted Rs 200 with birds under two months granted Rs 100. For each destroyed egg, a compensation of Rs 5 each will be given out.

2,403 migratory geese have been reported dead in Himachal Pradesh with around 1,900 deaths reported in Kangra district's Pong Dam area alone. Over 400 crows have been found dead across 10 districts in Madhya Pradesh. Gujarat, Haryana and Punjab have also reported bird and poultry deaths due to the disease.

The Department of Animal Husbandry and Dairying has established a control room in New Delhi to coordinate with state governments and manage the outbreak.

Should you avoiding consuming poultry and poultry products?

The WHO states that properly cooked meat does not transmit the virus to humans with rare case of human transmission after eating raw meat. Thoroughly cooking poultry meat and ensuring it is not pink will result in the virus being destroyed. Eggs also should not be consumed raw. Meat of animals who have died due to a disease also should be avoided.

Proper precautions have to be taken when visiting poultry markets. Individuals should avoid coming in contact with poultry and ensure they do not touch surfaces that might have been contaminated by the virus through droppings and nasal discharges.

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