Dr. Tasaduk Hussain Itoo


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Bird flu is a highly contagious viral disease caused predominantly by Avian Influenza type A (H5N1) viruses including new sub types, which generally affects poultry birds such as chickens and turkeys. Birds are normally the carriers of the virus, which take it to long distances, thereby affecting large avian population across continents. Wild water birds (like ducks and geese) can be infected with bird flu viruses, but usually do not get sick. Infected birds have virus in their saliva, mucous and droppings (faeces). Bird flu viruses spread easily between birds. Some of these viruses can cause serious illness and death in domestic poultry (like chickens, ducks and turkeys).


Outbreaks of bird flu happen among birds from time to time. According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), during the last few weeks, bird flu has hit at least 10 European countries–Netherlands, Germany, France, Belgium, United Kingdom, Denmark, Sweden, Poland, Croatia, and Ukraine and many cases have also been reported in South Korea and Japan. Many states in India reported bird deaths due to bird flu in the past one week and close to 25,000 birds have died and thousands others are infected.


Although it is rare for humans to get infected with bird flu viruses, but it can happen. According to WHO, by the end of third week of December 2020, a total of 239 cases of human infection with avian influenza A (H5N1) virus were reported from four countries – Cambodia, China, Vietnam and Lao PDR – since 2003. Of these cases, 134 were fatal. The last case was reported from Lao PDR on October 13, 2020 (one case, no death). Fortunately NO human infection has been reported in India so far.

Bird flu viruses can infect people when enough virus gets into a person’s eyes, nose or mouth, or is inhaled. This might happen when virus is in the air (in droplets or possibly dust) and a person breathes it in, or when a person touches something that has virus on it and then touches their mouth, eyes or nose. Most bird flu infections in people have happened after unprotected contact with infected birds or contaminated surfaces. In some cases, however, no direct contact has been established. No human bird flu infections have been reported from proper handling of poultry meat or from eatingproperly cooked poultry or poultry products. Risk depends on exposure. People with no contact with infected poultry or contaminated surfaces are thought to be at very low to no risk of infection.


As per Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), bird flu illness in people has ranged from mild to severe. Signs and symptoms of bird flu infections in people can include: fever (temperature of 100ºF (37.8ºC) or greater) or feeling feverish, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, fatigue, headaches, eye redness (or conjunctivitis), and difficulty in breathing. Other possible symptoms are diarrhoea, nausea, and vomiting. As with seasonal flu, some people are at high risk of getting very sick from bird flu infections, including pregnant women, people with weakened immune systems and people 65 and older. Human infections with bird flu viruses usually can be treated with the same prescription drugs that are used to treat human seasonal flu viruses. These are called “flu antiviral drugs.”


▪︎You don’t need to get panic during a bird flu outbreak, but should adopt preventive measures to stay safe. The best way to prevent catching bird flu is to make sure you are not exposed to the viruses that cause it. The vast majority of cases of avian influenza in humans is caused by contact with infected poultry. Birds that are sick or that have died from avian influenza are often covered with the virus. If enough of the virus is inhaled or gets into a person’s eyes, nose, or mouth, they will get bird flu.

▪︎ Stay away from sick or dead birds. Avoid all contact with any bird that appears ill or dead. This applies to domestic birds such as poultry, as well as wild birds. Observe birds in the wild from a distance. If you come into any contact with birds of any type, wash your hands as soon as possible. Use warm water and soap or hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

▪︎ Prepare poultry safely. Handle and cook poultry safely to kill avian influenza viruses and ensure your health. Use different utensils to handle meat before and after it has been cooked. Wash your hands with warm water and soap before and after you handle meat. Serve meat that is fully cooked and still hot.

▪︎ Cook eggs until the yolk is firm. Consuming runny eggs from an infected chicken can put you at risk of contracting bird flu. Be sure to cook eggs all the way through so that the yolks and whites are firm. Bird flu may also be present on the surface of eggshells, so make sure to wash your hands thoroughly after handling eggs.

▪︎ Take extreme precaution if you have flu symptoms. Regardless of the type of flu you’ve caught, do everything you can to help prevent the infection from spreading. For instance, cover your mouth and nose and turn away from others when you cough or sneeze. Dispose of soiled tissues immediately, and wash your hand with warm water and soap. Avoid areas or places with lots of people.

▪︎ Consider taking antiviral drugs. Talk to a physician doctor about taking influenza antiviral drugs to prevent infection. While these drugs are more commonly used to treat different types of flus, they can potentially keep from falling ill.

▪︎ Wash your hands often. Before and after handling your chickens, wash your hands withwarm water and soap. You can use hand sanitizer instead, as long as it is at least 60% alcohol. Any clothes, gloves, or tools that touched the chickens or chicken poop should also be washed with soap properly and thoroughly.

▪︎ Keep designated chicken boots. You should only use one pair of footwear when you’re in the chicken’s enclosure. Do not use these footwear for any other purpose. In particular, make sure that nothing you use that may come into contact with wild birds ever goes into the chickens’ living area. This includes clothing and equipment as well, though boots are the greatest risk factor.

▪︎ Never allow wild birds to get close. Wild birds can potentially infect your chickens. Especially if you live near a body of water, keep a vigilant eye out for birds that may try to visit your chickens. Wild birds may be attracted by your chicken feed, for instance.

▪︎ Store chicken feed safely. Once you have the feed, keep it in containers that prevent other birds, animals, and insects from getting to it. Large plastic bins work.

▪︎ Eat carefully. Never eat anything that might have raw or undercooked poultry products in it. Do not eat any meat that is still pink, or that is not served hot. Eat only hard-cookedeggs that do not have runny yolks. Never eat or drink something that includes any animal’s blood.

▪︎ Practice good hygiene. Keep yourself clean to help avoid catching avian flu. In particular, wash your hands often with soap and warm water. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and/or mouth. Do not spend time around poultry during an outbreak. Do not visit farms, markets, or other places where birds are raised, kept, or sold. Do not touch any birds, dead or alive.

– The writer can be reached at [email protected].

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