Explained: Should Avian Flu worry humans?

With states including Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala and Rajasthan reporting deaths of hundreds of birds due to the bird flu outbreak, here’s your cheatsheet to stay safe

On the death of crows, the DDA has informed the Delhi governments forest department, he said. Photo: iStock 

The recent outbreak of Avian Flu has killed over 2,000 migratory birds in Himachal Pradesh, more than 12,000 ducks in Kerala and over 4,000 crows in Rajasthan. While the bird deaths have prompted the respective governments to ban sale and slaughter of poultry meat and eggs as well as take culling measures to contain the flu, other states including Jharkhand and Punjab are taking precautionary measures to keep the virus from spreading.

As the flu comes at a time when the country is trying to recover from another pandemic, The Federal gives you a quick glance on its origin and possible threats.

What is Avian Flu?

It is an infection caused in birds by the Type A viruses, mostly found in wild aquatic or wild birds.

As many as 100 species of wild birds including gulls, terns, shorebirds or waterfowl have acted as host of the avian influenza.

The virus can infect other birds including domestic poultry like chicken, ducks, turkeys and geese, and animals.

The H5N1 virus is the most common type of avian flu, which is not only dangerous for the species, but can also affect animals and humans who get exposed to the carrier.

How does it spread?

The virus is transmitted when a domestic bird comes in contact with the waterfowl or another infected bird or through a virus-contaminated surface.

The virus can spread from the faeces, secretion from nose, mouth and eyes of an infected bird.

Does it affect humans?

Avian flu generally doesn’t infect humans, but some rare cases of the infection have been reported in the past.

The two strains that have infected humans in the past are H5N1 and H7N9.

The disease, however, when transmitted to humans (through the droppings, and secretions of an infected bird) can be dangerous in nature.

While outbreaks have been reported in Asia, Africa, North America and certain parts of Europe in the past, most of the infected humans had come in close contact with the birds.

The virus transmits to humans when droplets carrying it comes in contact with a person’s eyes, nose or mouth, either in form of droplets or dust.

The infection can be picked up from markets where poultry and eggs are sold in unhygienic conditions while undercooked poultry and eggs can also transmit the disease to humans.

The symptoms are similar to that seen in common cold – including fever, cough, body ache, sore throat and headache.

According to researchers, a bird flu can turn into a pandemic if the influenza virus mutates into a form which can easily spread among humans.

How to avoid getting contaminated?

While the general public should avoid sources of exposure or contact with birds during a flu outbreak, people working in poultry industry should follow required protocols including use of personal protective equipment at work and employing hand hygiene.

Those who have had contact with infected birds should be given influenza antiviral drugs as a preventive medication.

Should we eat poultry, eggs?

According to the World Health Organisation, while poultry meat including chicken is safe to eat when cooked properly (at or above 70 degree Celsius), “no birds from flocks with disease should enter the food chain”.

Eggs should not be runny or in liquid form and should be hard boiled.

WHO advises against eating raw meat, including blood or raw eggs when the poultry is sourced from an area that has reported a flu outbreak

Raw meat and cooked food should be separated to avoid contamination and all surface that come in contact with the raw meat should be cleaned thoroughly.

Washing hands thoroughly should be a must after handling raw poultry or eggs.