Highly pathogenic H5N8 bird flu in Karnataka

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Bird Flu
Bird Flu

Indian government has reported an outbreak of a highly contagious bird flu virus near Bengaluru in Karunataka, the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) said on Monday (yesterday), citing a report from the Indian agriculture ministry.

Stalls selling meat in a 1-km radius around Dasarahalli were sealed by the Animal Husbandry Department, while stalls in a 10-km radius are inspected for possible virus-infected birds.

The H5N8 virus was detected on Dec. 26 among birds in the village of Dasarahalli, killing 9 out of 951 birds. The others were culled, the Paris-based OIE said in a report posted on its website.

In an official statement, the Union agriculture ministry said Bhopal-based National Institute of High Security Animal Diseases (NIHSAD) had confirmed on December 30 that the samples were found positive for H5 strain of avian influenza virus. The state government was intimated about the results immediately.

“On the directions of the Centre, the Karnataka government has notified the outbreak and initiated the control and containment operations,” it said. A central team comprising two experts has been deputed to Bengaluru for overseeing the operation and to assist the state government, it added.

Bird flu is a viral infection that primarily infects birds, including chicken, other poultry, and wild birds such as ducks.

What are its symptoms?

Symptoms in birds can vary from symptoms like ruffled feathers, discoloration of feathers, lack of energy and appetite, drop in egg production to severe symptoms which could end in death of the birds. Such birds are infectious (capable of transmitting the virus) to other birds as well as to the bird handlers. Once such infected birds reach the chicken shops from poultry, the common person begins to be at a big risk. Bird handlers should be very cautious with such sick looking birds. When one sees a dead bird or a sick bird, one could inform the government officials. People should bury the internal organs of the chicken to avoid the spread of bird flu. It is more worrisome if a bird dies after showing symptoms of bird flu.

Symptoms in humans usually develop between 2 to 8 days after exposure. They include fever, sore throat, cough, muscle aches, watery eye discharge with redness. So, any person with these symptoms and a history of exposure to a sick bird or a visit to a poultry farm can be a suspect. Remember that the human influenza virus, which causes flu or common cold and is a very common infection in humans, also presents with similar symptoms only. So if you are sure of not having been in contact with a sick bird, do not panic. But since many of the symptoms mimic those of human flu, be sure to consult your doctor once.

Is it safe to eat chicken?

A frequently asked question about the disease is whether it is safe to eat chicken and other poultry products when the flu is detected. “It is safe to eat properly prepared and cooked poultry. The virus is sensitive to heat and normal temperatures used in cooking will kill the virus,” said Dr Ambanna.

There is no evidence that the flu can be transmitted through cooked food even if poultry or poultry products are contaminated with the virus. But it is always safe to eat properly cooked chicken. Normal cooking temperatures (70ºC/158ºF or higher) are fatal to the virus-but all parts of the bird or egg must be fully cooked at this temperature. People handling or preparing raw poultry must also ensure that juices or blood do not contaminate other food or drink.

Is there a treatment for bird flu?

Due to the small number of human cases, it has not been possible to conduct rigorous treatment trials for bird flu. Tamiflu (oseltamivir phosphate) and Relenza (zanamivir) are the two FDA-approved influenza antiviral drugs. These work best when started at the earliest. But injudicious use, like starting the medication on every person with flu symptoms could result in resistance of the virus to these drugs. Older drugs, amantadine and rimantadine, are approved for treatment and prevention of influenza A. But many strains of influenza, including the 2009 H1N1 influenza, are now resistant to these two drugs.

How can I protect myself/my family from avian flu?

1. Stay away from live bird markets, local poultry farms, or any other settings where there might be infected poultry.

2. Avoid touching surfaces that could have been contaminated by bird saliva, excreta, or urine

3. In general, washing hands prevents viruses and other contagious illnesses from spreading. Be sure to wash your hands with soap and water frequently and thoroughly, particularly before preparing meals and eating, and after taking care of a sick person.