As the country still grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic including its recent new variant, another health issue seems to have taken hold , as cases of bird flu have been confirmed (on 5th Jan’ 2021) in four Indian states so far: Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh. The bird flu is a disease which can be transmitted to human beings and become fatal.
What is Bird Flu?
Bird flu, also called Avian Influenza, is caused by a type of influenza (flu) virus that may infect human beings. Till date, more than 12 types of bird flu have been identified, including the two strains — H5N1 and H7N9, that have infected humans most recently. When bird flu strikes humans, it can be fatal.
Outbreaks of bird flu were seen in North America, Africa, Asia and few parts of Europe. Most of the individuals who have developed the symptoms of bird flu have had very close contact with the sick birds. In certain cases, bird flu has also passed from person to person.
Health officials are concerned that a global outbreak may occur if the virus that causes bird flu mutates into a form that spread more easily from one person to another. Currently, scientists are working on developing vaccines to help protect people from bird flu.
Symptoms of Bird Flu Infection
The reported symptoms of bird flu (avian influenza) infection in humans have ranged from mild to severe and may start within two to seven days, depending on the type. In most cases, symptoms resemble those of common flu, like:
- Sore throat
- Muscle aches
Some people may also experience diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, or severe respiratory complications like pneumonia difficulty breathing, acute, respiratory distress, respiratory failure, etc.
And in certain cases, conjunctivitis (a mild eye infection) may be the only indication of this disease.
Causes of Bird Flu Infection
Bird flu happens naturally in wild waterfowl and may spread to domestic poultry, like geese, ducks turkeys and chickens. The infection is spread through contact with the infected bird’s secretions mouth, nose, or eyes or from its feces.
Open-air markets, where birds and eggs are sold in crowded as well as unsanitary conditions, are the hotbeds of bird flu infection and may transmit the infection into the wider community.
Undercooked eggs or poultry meat from sick birds can transmit bird flu. Note that the poultry meat is safe for consumption if it has been cooked at an internal temperature of 74 degrees C (165 F). Eggs have to be cooked till the yolks and whites are firm.
Risk factors for Bird Flu Infection
Close contact with sick birds or with surfaces contaminated by their droppings, saliva or feathers are said to be the greatest risk factors for bird flu. In a few instances, bird flu was transmitted from human to human. However, unless the virus that causes bird flu begins to spread more easily among humans, infected birds present the greatest hazard.
Diagnosing Bird Flu Infection
Bird flu infection cannot be diagnosed by just clinical signs and symptoms alone in people. Laboratory testing is required. Bird flu is generally diagnosed by collecting a swab from the upper respiratory tract (throat or nose) of the sick individual. The diagnosis would be more accurate when the swab is taken during the first few days of the infection. The specimen collected is sent to a lab and the lab looks for avian influenza A virus by using either a molecular test, or culturing the virus, or by both. However, growing avian influenza A viruses should be done only in the labs with high levels of biosafety.
For severely sick people, specimen collection and testing of the lower respiratory tract may also lead to diagnosis of bird flu virus infection. However, for a few who are not very sick or who have recovered fully, it may be very difficult to detect the virus .
Sometimes it is possible to diagnose the virus by checking for evidence of antibodies that the body produced in response to this virus. But, this is not always an option as it requires two blood specimens – one taken during the first week of infection and another taken 3 to 4 weeks later. In addition, it may take many weeks to diagnose the results, and the testing must be performed in a special lab.
When to see your doctor
Consult your doctor immediately if you develop cough, body ache and fever and, if you have traveled recently to a part of the country or world where bird flu infection is rampant. Make sure to let your doctor know if you have visited any open-air markets or farms.
Request an appointment at Apollo Hospitals.
Call 1860-500-1066 to book an appointment.
The greatest way to prevent infection with bird flu or avian influenza is to completely avoid sources of exposure. Most humans infections of bird flu viruses have happened following a close or direct contact with infected poultry.
Prevention also includes taking all the poultry-safety measures which include destroying flocks when sick birds are identified and also vaccinating the healthy flocks. This culling, together with import bans, has limited the spread of bird flu effectively in many outbreak situations.
Recommendations for travelers
If you are traveling anywhere in India or to any part of the world with bird flu outbreaks, consider the following public health suggestions:
- Avoid contact with domesticated birds, if possible. Also, avoid small farms, rural areas and open-air markets that sell poultry and eggs.
- Wash your hands frequently. This simple, yet powerful technique is the best way to prevent any infection. Also, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer when you travel.
Poultry and egg products
As heat destroys avian (bird flu) viruses, cooked poultry is not a health threat. Nonetheless, it is best to take all the precautions while preparing and handling poultry that could be contaminated .Avoid cross-contamination: Wash utensils, cutting boards, including all surfaces with hot, soapy water that could have come into contact with raw poultry.
- Cook poultry thoroughly: Cook chicken or any poultry item till the juices run clear, and it reaches a minimum of 74 C (165 F) internal temperature.
- Saty away from raw eggs: Since eggshells are often contaminated with droppings of the bird, avoid foods having undercooked or raw eggs.
Request an appointment at Apollo Hospitals.
Call 1860-500-1066 to book an appointment