Reports of lakhs of birds dying of Avian Influenza, or bird flu, over the last few days have sent panic waves across the country. Its confirmation in 10 states and reports of likely spread in others, has made people question the threat posed by the virus which is known to be zoonotic – or one that can jump from animals to humans. The fear has also hit sale of bird meat, including chicken, and eggs.
Here’s all you need to know about bird flu and the threat it poses to humans:
It is safe to eat “fully cooked eggs and chicken,” animal husbandry minister Giriraj Singh recently said in a tweet with a government advisory as poultry sales took a hit across states. To kill the heat-sensitive virus, experts suggest boiling eggs till the yolk and white are firm, and ensuring the meat is cooked all the way through, or not pink in the center.
The government has allayed fears of infection to humans through contaminated meat, saying that “in India, the disease spreads mainly by migratory birds”, but added that “secondary spread (from infected birds) by human handling (through fomites) cannot be ruled out”.
This puts officials testing samples, collecting dead birds and involved in culling at risk as the virus spreads through saliva, blood and droppings. To safeguard them, the centre has directed compulsory use of PPE kits while handling infected birds. Butchers are also at high risk of contracting the bird flu, and are advised to be cautious.
Experts say that even if a human does get infected – as was the case in Hong Kong in 1997 when the H5N1 strain of bird flu infected 80 people and killed one – the chances of human-to-human transfer of the virus are low.
To check the spread of Avian Influenza even among birds, affected states have temporarily closed poultry markets, started culling infected birds, banned import of live birds and created “bio-bubbles” around zoos and sanctuaries. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture also met senior officials of the Ministry of Animal Husbandry to examine the availability of animal vaccines in the country.