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Bird Flu In India: Should You Worry?

By Dr. Nikita Toshi +2 more

We all started 2021 on a hopeful note. The coronavirus vaccine has successfully rolled out and there is a high possibility of us resuming our old lives very soon. But then came the news that has plunged us into despair. Another virus is doing the rounds and creating headlines.

Bird Flu In India: Should You Worry? - PharmEasy

Bird flu or avian flu or H5N1 is back. It shook up India back in 2006 and lakhs of chickens and ducks had to be culled. The question on everyone’s mind now is – is bird flu lethal for humans? How does it spread and what should we do?

In this article, we will shed some light on bird flu and what it means for us.

What is bird flu?

Bird flu or avian flu is a form of viral Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI)) infection. It affects all kinds of birds, not just the ones that we usually consume. 

Usually, it spreads from bird to bird. Waterfowl like wild ducks and hens that travel up and down rivers are the primary carriers of bird flu and spread the infection wherever they go. 

Cross-species infection or movement of the infection from one species to another is comparatively rare. But it is not impossible. Humans and other mammals can get infected by affected birds.

Please observe bird flu symptoms like Conjunctivitis or mild flu-like upper respiratory symptoms, pneumonia requiring hospitalization fever (temperature of 100ºF [37.8ºC] or greater), cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, fatigue, and shortness of breath or difficulty breathing. Consult a doctor as soon as you encounter any of these symptoms.

Dr Ashish Bajaj – M.B.B.S, M.D. in Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology

How do humans get infected?

This brings us to the question of how bird flu spreads from birds to mammals. Like all viral infections, bird flu too spreads through contact.

Humans may get infected if they come in contact with the body secretions like the saliva, mucous and droppings of the infected bird. The infection is also said to spread if we breathe in the droplets or dust particles that contain the virus.

Is bird flu more dangerous than other types of flu?

Having lived with the COVID pandemic for almost a year now, whenever we hear of a new disease, we ask this question – how contagious is it? The good news is that bird flu hardly ever spreads from one human to another. There are very very few instances of one human catching the viral infection from another infected person.

But that does not make it less dangerous than other types of viral infections. In fact, bid flu is deadly. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the mortality rate of bird flu in humans is 60%, which means that upon infection 60% of the affected humans succumb to the H5N1 infection.

Whenever there is a possible outbreak of avian influenza, the essential way to reduce the severity and population impact are to reduce the spread of the virus. Since human-to-human transmission is uncommon, the focus should be on reinforcing appropriate sanitation habits in the population, especially those that work around birds or that are involved in food preparation

Dr. M.G. Kartheeka – MBBS, MD(Pediatrics)

Bird flu is spreading rapidly in India

Bird flu is rapidly expanding across India. Now, it has spread to a total of 8 states and 1 union territory (Maharashtra, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, and Kerala). Delhi has recently confirmed cases of bird flu from samples collected from dead crows and ducks.  

How to keep yourself safe from bird flu?

Bird flu spreads through contact with the secretions from infected birds. So the best way to prevent contracting bird flu is to stay away from both live and dead birds because they could be infected. 

If you feed birds, then do it from a distance. Make sure you don’t let stray birds like pigeons or crows into your home. Their droppings could be infected. Do not hold or touch birds. 

Wash and sanitize your hands frequently.

If you are into the poultry business, and your state has reported outbreaks of bird flu, then contact the authorities. 

Can I get bird flu from eggs and bird meat?

Bird flu does not spread through the consumption of well-cooked chicken or duck or their eggs. This is a common misconception. Eating bird meat and eggs is safe. WHO has confirmed that when you thoroughly wash and clean bird meat and eggs and then cook them at high temperatures, all viruses die.  

Bird flu virus infection in people cannot be diagnosed by clinical signs and symptoms alone; laboratory testing is needed. Bird flu virus infection is usually diagnosed by collecting a swab from the upper respiratory tract (nose or throat) of the sick person, especially during the first few days of illness.

Dr Ashish Bajaj – M.B.B.S, M.D. in Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology

Also Read: Caution Aftercare: What to Avoid After Receiving Your Flu Shot

How does bird flu affect humans?

Although avian (bird) influenza (flu) viruses usually do not infect people, there have been some rare cases of human infection with these viruses. Illness in humans from bird flu virus infections has ranged in severity from no symptoms, mild illness to severe diseases that have resulted in death.

Infected birds shed bird flu virus through their saliva, mucous and faeces. Human infections with bird flu viruses can happen when the virus gets into a person’s eyes, nose or mouth or is inhaled. This can happen when the virus is in the air (in droplets or possibly dust) and a person breathes it in or possibly when a person touches something that has the virus on it then touches their mouth, eyes or nose. Human infections with bird flu viruses have occurred most often after unprotected contact with infected birds or surfaces contaminated with bird flu viruses. However, some infections have been identified where direct contact with infected birds or their environment was not known to have occurred.

What can save us from multiple diseases is hygiene. Sanitize, wash, disinfect yourself as well as the foods you eat. Wear a mask to reduce the possibility of touching your nose or mouth with unclean hands. After all, safety is the best precaution.

Disclaimer: The information included on this site is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for medical treatment by a healthcare professional. Because of unique individual needs, the reader should consult their physician to determine the appropriateness of the information for the reader’s situation.

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