As India prepares for a vaccination plan to wipe out coronavirus, influenza flu or popularly known as bird flu, has gripped many parts of the country. Kerala, Himachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh are states with reported bird flu cases among wild geese, crows and ducks.
The first instance of humans contracting a similar bird blu, the H5N1 strain, from birds was reported in 1997 after an outbreak at a Hong Kong bird market. Around six people had died of 18 people infected with the avian virus. Since 2003, it has spread from Asia to Europe and Africa. It has become endemic in poultry populations in some countries. India had notified the first outbreak of avian influenza in 2006.
However, there's less likelihood of the virus spreading to humans. As per the World Health Organisation (WHO), generally only those who come in direct contact H5N1-affected birds have contracted this virus, and there's no evidence that it spreads from humans to humans, says the WHO. The avian virus dies as the temperature rises so properly cooked food is unlikely to transmit it to humans.
Around 1 lakh poultry birds have died mysteriously in the past few days in Haryana. The Pinarayi Vijayan-led government in Kerala has declared bird flu as a state-specific disaster after over 1,700 ducks died in a farm in Kottayam district. In Himachal, around 1,800 migratory birds were found dead at Pong Dam Lake. Around 250 crows were found dead in many districts of Rajasthan.
"Implementing management practices that incorporate biosecurity principles, personal hygiene, and cleaning and disinfection protocols, as well as cooking and processing standards, are effective means of controlling the spread of the AI viruses," a government statement said.
The government has said the disease spreads in India mainly via migratory birds during winter months i.e. from September - October to February - March. "The secondary spread by human handling (through fomites) cannot be ruled out," it adds.
The Centre has asked the affected states to put in place measures to contain the disease and prevent further spread. These measures are strengthening bio-security of poultry farms; disinfection of affected areas; proper disposal of dead birds/carcasses; timely collection and submission of samples for confirmation; and further surveillance.
Meanwhile, according to the WHO, the avian flu outbreaks have resulted in millions of poultry infections, several hundred human cases, and many human deaths. The outbreaks in poultry have also seriously impacted livelihoods, the economy and international trade in affected countries. Another avian influenza A(H5) subtype viruses have also resulted in both outbreaks in poultry and human infections.