Bird flu among humans is rare, but here’s what you can do to stay safe

(This story originally appeared in on Jan 09, 2021)

New Delhi: Bird-to-human or human-to-human transmission of bird flu is rare. However, doctors advise precautionary measures, such as avoiding consuming uncooked or partially cooked chicken. Avian influenza can spread to humans through droppings, saliva and secretion of the infected bird, so it is advisable to avoid contaminated surfaces.

Dr JC Suri, director, department of pulmonary, critical care and sleep medicine at Fortis Hospital, said, “Those involved in the handling of poultry birds, for example chicken, should clean and disinfect any suspected infected areas and wear protective gear, such as gloves.”

Another public health expert said people should be alert about birds dying in their localities. “One should not venture near bird carcasses and immediately report any death to the authorities,” added the expert.

Centre for Disease Control and Prevention says that US bird flu can infect people when enough virus gets into a person’s eyes, nose or mouth. “This might happen when the virus is in the air and a person breathes it in, or when a person touches an infected surface and then touches their mouth, eyes or nose,” it adds.

Most bird flu infections in people have occurred after unprotected contact with infected birds or contaminated surfaces. The illness can range from mild to severe. Signs and symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, fatigue, headaches, eye redness (or conjunctivitis) and difficulty in breathing.

Just like seasonal flu, some people are at a high risk of getting very sick from bird flu infection, including pregnant women, those with weakened immune systems and people aged 65 and above, CDC says.

India experienced its first highly pathogenic H5N1 outbreak in Maharashtra and Gujarat in February 2005, followed by a second outbreak in Madhya Pradesh in March 2006. Since then, sporadic cases of bird flu have been reported at periodic intervals from different parts of the country, including an outbreak in Manipur in 2007 and West Bengal and Tripura in 2008.

In 2016, culling was carried out in Delhi following reports of sudden death of birds at Delhi zoo, deer park in Hauz Khas and Asola Bhatti sanctuary in Tughlaqabad.


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