All you need to know about H5N1 as Bird Flu scare grips Bengaluru

According to experts, the infection spreads from birds to humans; so far, no case has been reported of it transmitting from one human to another.
 All you need to know about H5N1 as Bird Flu scare grips Bengaluru
All you need to know about H5N1 as Bird Flu scare grips Bengaluru
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This article has been written with inputs from Citizen Matters.

The Health Department in Bengaluru has swung into action after fears of a Bird Flu outbreak gripped the city.

Precautionary measures have been put in place as officials started screening poultry in Shivaji Nagar and KR Market, while over 900 chicken in Dasarahalli were culled on Wednesday. However, the only confirmed case so far has been detected in a dead chicken at a stall in Dasarahalli. 

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.

This comes five years after the last reported bird flu scare in the city in October 2012.

The alert has also triggered zoo authorities in Mysuru and Karanji Lake Nature Park to take precautionary measures.

What is H5N1 Bird Flu?

Flu stands for influenza, a viral infection caused by the flu virus. And bird flu is ‘flu occurring in birds’. Depending on minor differences on the genetic make up of the virus, influenza virus is of type A, B and C. This outbreak is caused by a subtype of influenza A, known as H5N1.

According Dr Ambanna Gowda, consultant, internal medicine, Fortis Hospital, Bangalore, H5N1 is a type of Bird Flu that has only spread from birds to humans so far. It is very difficult for the infection to spread from person to person. "Cases of H5N1 infection in people occur through close contact with infected birds. It can happen when a person handles bird droppings or swims in the same water body as an infected bird. Chances of the flu spreading through consuming properly cooked chicken and eggs are minimal," he said.

It can also spread through contact with surfaces like bird cages contaminated with secretions or excretions of infected birds. This makes the people who work with infected chickens the most at risk. Also, infected birds transmit the virus to healthy birds in the same way. But person to person transmission has not been reported.

What are its symptoms?

Symptoms in birds can vary from symptoms like ruffled feathers, discolouration 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 infrom the BBMP or the number given at the end of this article. 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.

H5N1 virus or bird flu should be treated in a hospital and may require intensive care. Antiviral medicines can reduce the severity of the illness and have to be taken immediately.

"Most Bengaluru hospitals have a protocol to handle cases of Bird Flu. If the fever persists for three days, it is advised to visit a hospital and if H5N1 is detected, the person will be kept in isolation and under observation. Anti-viral medicines will be administered to cure the disease,” adds Dr Ambanna.

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