Amid the highly infectious coronavirus pandemic, when daily number of new cases is still on the rise, there are reports of yet another grim situation in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Kerala in the form of another infectious virus – the Avian Influenza Virus, known in common tongue as the Bird Flu.
Earlier, on December 23, several districts of Madhya Pradesh reported the deaths of around 400 crows across 7-8 districts due to the H5N1 avian virus. Next, on December 27, in a local temple situated in Jhalawar, in the southeast area of Rajasthan reports of the death 100 crows were confirmed. Samples of these dead birds tested positive for Avian Influenza. Although the government urged the state authorities to take all precautionary measures so as to ensure that it doesn’t spread across, within a few days, the number of deaths due to the avian virus rose to 425 including crows, herons and other birds.
A week later, on January 4, there were reports of the deaths of around 2401 migratory birds with close to half of them being the endangered bar-headed goose, visiting Himachal Pradesh’s Pong wetlands to have died due to avian influenza. Even before people could take up necessary precautions, on the same day Kerala government reported that around 12,000 ducks have died in the last few days, while on the other hand according to minister K Raju another 36,000 are likely to be slaughtered to prevent the spread the avian virus.
With the growing number of cases every day across the Indian subcontinent, especially in Kerala, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh, states like Punjab, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh have already sounded high alert.
So, What Exactly Is The Avian Influenza?
Avian influenza is a highly infectious and severe respiratory disease caused by an infection due to the avian influenza Type A viruses. According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the avian influenza is commonly known as Bird Flu, and this infection is chiefly said to occur naturally among wild aquatic birds, domestic poultry and other birds and animals. It is mainly found to be transmitted via the H5N1 and H7N9 strains of the Type A virus.
Can Human Beings Get Infected With Avian Influenza?
According to the Centre For Disease Control, although the avian flu virus doesn’t normally infect humans, statistical data and reports suggest that only sporadic humans have been infected since 2015. Although infection due to bird flu is a rare case scenario, transmission to humans can be quite deadly in nature. Even the World Health Organization confirmed 861 cases, where humans were infected due to the H5N1 virus from 2003 to 2019. Health officials around the world fear a global outbreak in case the normal bird flu virus mutate into a lethal infectious one that transmits more easily in the human community.
What Causes Bird Flu?
Bird flu usually occurs naturally in wild waterfowls and also infects the birds in the domestic poultry including chickens, turkeys, ducks and geese. The virus chiefly gets transmitted via contact with an infected bird's feces, or secretions from its nose, mouth or eyes. Open-air markets which sell eggs and birds in unsanitary, crowded conditions usually act as hot beds for quick spread of the virus into the human community. Even undercooked poultry meat or eggs from infected birds can transmit bird flu.
The risk of getting infected with the bird flu virus increases on coming into close contact with sick birds or with surfaces contaminated by their feathers, saliva or droppings. Although there are several types of bird flu, the first avian influenza virus to infect humans was the H5N1 strain that occurred in Hong Kong in 1997.
Symptoms Of Avian Influenza a.k.a Bird Flu
The common signs and symptoms of bird flu usually begin within 2-7 days of getting infected, and usually mimic the symptoms of common influenza. These include:
- Fever (over 100.4°F or 38°C)
- Sore throat
- Runny nose
- Muscle aches
- Shortness of breath
- Respiratory difficulties
- Mild Conjunctivitis
If the infection is not treated on time, it can eventually lead to life-threatening complications including:
- Respiratory failure
- Kidney dysfunction
- Heart problems
- Pink eye (conjunctivitis)
Diagnosis And Treatment
On noticing any of the above-mentioned signs and symptom, get checked by a doctor at the earliest to start necessary treatment. The doctor usually analyses samples of fluids from your nose or throat to confirm the presence of the virus. The doctor may also conduct diagnostics including auscultation (a test that determines abnormal breathing), nasopharyngeal culture, white-blood-cell differential and an X-ray to ascertain the condition of the lungs.
Just like any flu virus, humans infected with the bird flu virus is generally treated with antiviral medications.
Although situations are still not alarming, yet several government authorities have urged people to remain vigilant so that the virus doesn't enter the domestic animals and poultry farms. In case, you encounter a bird that is already dead or on the verge of dying, do not approach it or touch it under any circumstance as it might be infected with the H5N1 strain which is extremely contagious and can cause serious illness in people.