Bird Flu Outbreak In India: All You Need To Know About The Avian Influenza Virus by Bushra Satkhed

In the beginning weeks of the New Year 2021, another virus has hit the country as lakhs of migratory birds were found dead in many Indian states. The outbreak of avian influenza also called ‘bird flu’ or H5N1 virus has been confirmed in a total of ten states which are Delhi, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Kerala, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Gujarat. 

Strains of the influenza virus that primarily infect birds can also infect humans; however, it is very rare. If contracted via contact with sick birds, it can be fatal. Symptoms begin within two to eight days and can seem like the common flu. Cough, fever, sore throat, muscle aches, headache and shortness of breath may occur. The disease can carry high mortality in humans. Some antiviral drugs, if taken within two days of symptoms, may help.

Avian Influenza has been confirmed in crows from Mumbai, Thane, Beed, Dapoli in Maharashtra. In Kerala, thousands of birds were culled last week after 12,000 ducks died and the virus was confirmed in parts of Alappuzha and Kottayam districts. Sale of poultry and related products has been regulated only in the affected parts. In Haryana, culling of over 1.6 lakh birds at five poultry farms began in Panchkula district. More than four lakh birds were found dead in the state in the last two-three weeks. Delhi has banned the import of live birds and the biggest wholesale poultry market in Ghazipur has been temporarily shut down. All three Delhi Municipal Corporations banned the sale of chicken in their respective regions. Hotels and restaurants were warned against serving egg-based dishes or poultry meat. Himachal Pradesh had reported deaths of over 2,000 birds, most of them bar-headed geese, at Pong Dam sanctuary. Slaughter, sale, purchase and export of any poultry birds, fish of any breed and their related products, including eggs, meat, chicken, have been banned in Kangra district. Rajasthan reported cases in 16 districts claiming lives of 626 birds in one day, the highest so far. According to the report released by the animal husbandry department, 349 crows, 52 pigeons, 22 peacocks and 203 other birds died.

These areas have been declared as an ‘infected area’ and action is being taken to enforce the prescribed preventive measures. As per these measures, all of the poultry birds within a one-kilometer radius of the infected poultry farm are being culled. Tests are also being taken to identity symptoms of infected birds.

The owners of poultry farms and the general public have been instructed to immediately inform the nearest veterinary dispensary about the death of crows, parrots, herons, or migratory birds in any village or of any unusual mortality of poultry birds in commercial farms as well as in backyard poultry. It is advised that the dead birds should not be touched with bare hands and post mortem of such dead birds should not be conducted. The birds should not be disposed of without intimation to the local veterinarian. As per the provisions under Section 4 of the Prevention and Control of Infectious and Contagious Diseases of Animals Act, 2003, every owner, or any other person, non-governmental organization, public bodies or village Panchayat, in-charge of any animal which he or she has a reason to believe to be infective of a scheduled disease shall report the fact to the Village Officer or village panchayat in-charge, who may report the same in writing to the nearest available Veterinarian

Municipal corporations should make it mandatory for chicken sellers to wear masks and use gloves as cases are increasing. Since heat can kill the virus, it is safe to consume poultry and eggs following hygienic cooking methods and cooking the chicken properly, for at least 30 minutes at a temperature of 70 degrees Celsius while eggs should be thoroughly cooked and never be served runny. The bird flu has been dealt with previously and therefore there is no reason of panic, if proper measures are taken and guidelines are strictly followed. State authorities have also requested people not to spread misconceptions and rumors based on unscientific information about the bird flu.