Bird flu outbreak in India: All you need to know
In recent days, lakhs of birds have died across India as at least four states have confirmed bird flu outbreaks. Thus far, the disease has been found among wild geese in Himachal Pradesh, crows in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, and ducks in Kerala. The government has now stepped up efforts to contain the illness and a control room has been set up in Delhi.
The disease is caused by Influenza Type A viruses which typically affect poultry birds such as chickens and turkeys. There are many strains of the virus causing this highly contagious disease. While some only lead to a low egg production among other mild symptoms, others may cause a more severe illness, even resulting in the death of the bird.
In Kerala, 12,000 ducks have died in the past few days. H5N8 strain has been confirmed in Alappuzha and Kottayam. Around 24,000 birds were culled on Tuesday. Officials say the infection is localized and poultry sale is only regulated in the affected regions. 2,700 birds—mostly bar-headed geese—have died in Himachal Pradesh. Kangra has now banned the slaughter, sale, purchase, and export of poultry birds.
The disease has also been confirmed in Rajasthan's Jaipur, Kota, Baran, and Jhalawar districts. A total of 717 crows have died so far. In Haryana's Panchkula, four lakh birds died in the past 10 days. However, the state is yet to confirm the viral outbreak. Jammu and Kashmir has also started investigating samples. Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have also stepped up vigil.
Wild aquatic birds such as ducks and geese serve as natural reservoirs for the Influenza A viruses. Many birds carry these viruses without becoming sick. The viruses are excreted in bird droppings. Since birds excrete even while flying and migrate over long distances, the virus can easily spread to new locations quickly. The virus can spread to poultry and terrestrial birds and even mammals.
The virus can infect humans, however, it is rare. The government says no case of bird flu in humans has been detected in India yet. People who come in close contact with infected alive/dead birds have been known to contract the H5N1 flu, however, it does not spread from person to person, the WHO says. The disease cannot spread through properly cooked poultry food.
The H5N1 virus is quite fatal and is known to kill six out of 10 confirmed cases. However, the actual fatality rate may be lower than the case fatality rate due to the underreporting of infections. Since flu viruses are quite prone to mutation, there are chances that the virus might mutate, making person to person transmission possible.
Although the virus generally infects the gut in birds, when it infects a human, it targets the respiratory tract. Early symptoms of bird flu in humans include fever, cough, sore throat, abdominal pain, and diarrhea, and it may trigger pneumonia or Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS). The Health Ministry advises people working with poultry to wear PPEs and follow proper hand hygiene.