We all started 2021 on a hopeful note. The coronavirus vaccine is about to roll out and there is a high possibility of us resuming our old lives very soon. But then came the news that has plunged us into despair. Another virus is doing the rounds and creating headlines.
Bird flu or avian flu or H5N1 is back. It shook up India back in 2006 and lakhs of chickens and ducks had to be culled. The question on everyone’s mind now is – is bird flu lethal for humans? How does it spread and what should we do?
In this article, we will shed some light on bird flu and what it means for us.
What is bird flu?
Bird flu or avian flu is a form of viral (HPAI) infection. It affects all kinds of birds, not just the ones that we usually consume.
Usually, it spreads from bird to bird. Waterfowl like wild ducks and hens that travel up and down rivers are the primary carriers of bird flu and spread the infection wherever they go.
Cross-species infection or movement of the infection from one species to another is comparatively rare. But it is not impossible. Humans and other mammals can get infected by affected birds.
How do humans get infected?
This brings us to the question of how bird flu spreads from birds to mammals. Like all viral infections, bird flu too spreads through contact.
The secretions from an infected bird’s respiratory tract, nose, and eyes as well as bird droppings contain the viral load. If that comes in contact with our noses, mouths, or eyes, we can get bird flu.
Is bird flu more dangerous than other types of flu?
Having lived with the COVID pandemic for almost a year now, whenever we hear of a new disease, we ask this question – how contagious is it? The good news is that bird flu hardly ever spreads from one human to another. There are very very few instances of one human catching the viral infection from another infected person.
But that does not make it less dangerous than other types of viral infections. In fact, bid flu is deadly. It has a mortality rate of 60%, which means that it kills 60% of the people it infects.
Bird flu is spreading rapidly in India
Bird flu is rapidly expanding across India. Even a couple of days ago it was restricted to 4 states. Now, it has spread to a total of 8 states and 1 union territory (Maharashtra, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, and Kerala). Delhi has recently confirmed cases of bird flu from samples collected from dead crows and ducks.
How to keep yourself safe from bird flu?
Bird flu spreads through contact with the secretions from infected birds. So the best way to prevent contracting bird flu is to stay away from both live and dead birds because they could be infected.
If you feed birds, then do it from a distance. Make sure you don’t let stray birds like pigeons or crows into your home. Their droppings could be infected. Do not hold or touch birds.
Wash and sanitize your hands frequently. Even if you have unknowingly come in contact with bird secretions, this will kill the viruses.
If you are into the poultry business, and your state has reported outbreaks of bird flu, then contact the authorities.
Can I get bird flu from eggs and bird meat?
Bird flu does not spread through the consumption of well-cooked chicken or duck or their eggs. This is a common misconception. Eating bird meat and eggs is safe. WHO has confirmed that when you thoroughly wash and clean bird meat and eggs and then cook them at high temperatures, all viruses die.
But if bird flu reaches your state, thousands of chickens and ducks will be culled, which will create a shortage of lean meat and eggs. So these might go off your menu anyway.
What can save us from multiple diseases is hygiene. Sanitise, wash, disinfect yourself as well as the foods you eat. Wear a mask to reduce the possibility of touching your nose or mouth with unclean hands. After all, safety is the best precaution.