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The return of Avian FluBird Flu returned to haunt India

Two days into the death of nine water birds in Delhi, at least 10 more birds were found dead in the city. Gwalior zoo met with the same fate a couple of days back when it had to shut down after pelicans and storks became victims of bird flu.
|| Nishica Choudhary

India is one of six nations in the world where the disease keeps surfacing among birds. During the last outbreak among poultry in Karnataka in May 2016, 33,000 birds had to be culled. Interestingly, bird flu outbreak was reported in Germany and Laos at the same time.

New Bird flu (avian influenza) cases have been confirmed in Gujarat recently, in addition to Kerala, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana where the disease has already been confirmed.Several states, which have been reporting deaths of birds, including crows and migratory species, are scrambling to have samples tested for the virus.

The infection:

Bird flu or avian influenza is the name used to describe a viral infection that is reported mostly in birds, but has the potential to affect humans and other animals.More than a dozen types of bird flu have been identified, including the two strains that have most recently infected humans — H5N1 and H7N9. When bird flu does strike humans, it can be deadly.

Outbreaks of bird flu have occurred in Asia, Africa, North America and parts of Europe.The virus was first reported in geese in China in 1996.

In India, Samples from Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Kerala have tested positive for the A (H5N8) strain of the virus, while samples from Himachal Pradesh have shown the presence of A (H5N1).

Causes of Bird flu

Bird flu occurs naturally in wild waterfowl and can spread into domestic poultry, such as chickens, turkeys, ducks and geese.The disease is transmitted via contact with an infected bird’s faeces, or secretions from its nose, mouth or eyes. Undercooked poultry meat or eggs from infected birds can transmit bird flu.

Human transmission

The H5N1 virus can jump species and infect humans from the infected bird. The first case of H5N1 infection in humans was reported in Hong Kong in 1997, when a poultry farm worker caught the infection from infected birds. In its present form, human-to-human infection is not known — human infections have been reported only among people who have handled infected birds or carcasses.

The chances of the H5N1 virus infecting humans is comparatively low in India as compared to South East Asian countries, mainly because of the difference in culinary habits.The virus dies immediately if exposed to temperatures over 70 degrees Celsius. Unlike in South East Asian countries, both meat and eggs in India are eaten well cooked, which sees them being exposed to over 100 degrees Celsius.Thus the chances of humans contracting the virus from eating chicken and eggs is extremely rare.

Flu viruses are constantly changing and animal flu viruses can change such that they may gain the ability to infect people easily and spread among people, causing a pandemic. Human infections with novel avian influenza virus like Asian H5N1 are concerning because of this pandemic potential.

This time, most infections have been reported either in wild birds, crows or migratory birds, Dr. A S Ranade, Dean, Bombay Veterinary College, said. Since 2006, the poultry industry has developed bio safety zones around farms, which has stopped commercially reared birds from coming in contact with any foreign feed or bird, Dr Ranade said.

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