While the novel coronavirus is still rampant in the country, a new virus has started to spread- which causes the Avian Influenza or the bird flu.
Several states have reported deaths of birds, mostly non-domesticated. A few days back, the central government issued a status report of avian influenza in the country, saying the disease has been confirmed in seven states- namely Uttar Pradesh, Kerala, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Gujarat as the cause of the recent bird deaths . Delhi and Maharashtra also have confirmed bird flu. The cases are spreading and increasing alarmingly.
But do not panic- we have covered it for you. Below are some pointers to help you stay informed about the virus and its implications.
Avian influenza refers to the disease caused by infection with avian or the bird. More than a dozen types of bird flu have been identified, including the two strains that have most recently infected humans — H5N1 and H7N9. These viruses occur naturally among wild aquatic birds worldwide, and can infect domestic poultry and other bird and animal species.
The virus was first reported in 1996 in geese in China. Since then, outbreaks have been reported periodically across the world. Outbreaks of bird flu have occurred in Asia, Africa, North America and parts of Europe. India reported the presence of the virus in Nandurbar, Maharashtra, in 2006, which led to large-scale culling of poultry birds, causing considerable losses to the poultry industry.
Avian flu viruses do not normally infect humans. Most people who had developed symptoms of bird flu have had close contact with sick birds. In its present form, human-to-human infection is not known. Human infections have been reported only among people who have handled infected birds or carcasses.
Infected birds shed avian influenza virus in their saliva, mucus and feces. Human infections with bird flu viruses can happen when enough virus gets into a person’s eyes, nose or mouth, or is inhaled. This can happen when the virus is in the air (in droplets or possibly dust) and a person breathes it in, or when a person touches something that has a virus on it then touches their mouth, eyes or nose.
As a preventive measure, people are advised to refrain from exposing themselves to birds. People who work with poultry or who respond to avian influenza outbreaks specifically are advised to follow recommended biosecurity and infection control practices. These include use of appropriate personal protective equipment and careful attention to hand hygiene.
For human infections with avian influenza A(H7N7) and A(H9N2) viruses, disease is typically mild or subclinical. Signs and symptoms of bird flu may begin within two to seven days of infection, depending on the type. In most cases, they resemble those of conventional influenza, including cough, fever, sore throat, muscle aches, headache and shortness of breath. Some people also experience nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. And in a few cases, a mild eye infection (conjunctivitis) is the only indication of the disease.
Disease features such as the incubation period, severity of symptoms and clinical outcome varies by the virus causing infection but mainly manifests with respiratory symptoms.
Samples of fluids from your nose or throat can be tested for evidence of bird flu virus. These samples are advised to be taken within the first few days after symptoms appear.
Many influenza viruses have become resistant to the effects of a category of antiviral drugs such as amantadine and rimantadine (Flumadine). The disease can carry a high mortality in humans. Some antiviral drugs, if taken within two days of symptoms, might be effective.
As of now, there are no commercially available vaccines for humans against bird flu strains. Human infection with H5N1 bird flu is fatal in approximately 55% of infected humans and 37% infected with H7N9, but only a relatively small number of humans worldwide have become infected since 1997.
As the bird flu cases reported in India are increasing, it is important to protect and take care of yourself. Remember to wear a mask, wash hands and stay away from direct contact with birds or bird droppings.
(Edited by Anju Narayanan)