In early February, the United States’ Indiana reported an outbreak of highly pathogenic avian flu in turkey flock. It was the country’s first case in a commercial poultry operation since 2020.
A few days later, India too reported cases of bird flu. In Maharashtra, over 25,000 birds in poultry farms were culled to check the spread of infection. Workers of the farm were also isolated. No fresh case has been reported in the last one week.
The first avian flu was detected in Italy in early 1900. In December 1983, more than five million birds were killed to check the spread of infection after it was found in Pennsylvania and Virginia.
In 1997, 18 people were found infected by the H5N1 strain in Hong Kong. Six of them died later. This was the first documented case of human infection. It had prompted Hong Kong to destroy its entire poultry population.
In India, the first cases were reported in Maharashtra in 2006.Bird flu, also known as avian influenza, is a highly contagious viral disease. It affects both wild and domesticated birds.
Bird flu refers to infections caused by the Type A virus in wild aquatic birds, particularly impacting their respiratory tracts and intestines.
Avian influenza A viruses are extremely contagious among other birds too. Some of them can even cause deaths in domesticated bird species such as ducks, chickens and turkeys.
The virus primarily spreads through bird faeces. It can spread through direct contact with excreta, both in the form of faeces or contaminated feed and water, coming from infected birds.
Wild birds can carry bird flu viruses in their intestinal and respiratory tracts. And, since they do not commonly get sick despite having the virus, they can carry it over long distances along their migration routes.
Humans risk acquiring avian influenza if they are in close contact with infected birds. Many cases of human infection are limited to conjunctivitis or mild respiratory disease. However, there are cases of severe illness.
According to the World Health Organisation, between 2003 and 2014, the virus has claimed 407 human lives globally.India saw outbreaks in 15 states between 2006 and 2015. But no person has been infected in the country so far.
At present, there is no evidence to suggest that consuming poultry or eggs can transmit the bird flu virus to humans. However, cooking the poultry at temperatures upwards of 70 degrees Celsius is recommended for safety.
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