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First Death Due to Bird Flu in India: Should You Be Worried?

How dangerous can the bird flu virus be for humans?

Updated
Health News
4 min read
<div class="paragraphs"><p>Bird flu: Earlier, no case of avian influenza or bird flu was reported in humans, in India.</p></div>
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The first death due to bird flu has been reported in India amid the COVID-19 pandemic on Tuesday, 20 July.

An 11-year-old boy from Haryana succumbed to the virus at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in Delhi.

Earlier, no case of avian influenza or bird flu was reported in humans, in India.

Avian influenza is an infectious viral disease that causes severe respiratory disease in birds.

How Dangerous Is It?

Humans are not usually infected with the bird flu virus, although some of its subtypes such as A(H5N1), A(H7N9) have caused severe infection in people.

Cases of infection have also been observed in people with other avian influenza subtypes, including H7N3, H7N7 and H9N2.

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According to experts, transmission of the H5N1 virus from birds to humans is rare and there is no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission.

According to the World Health Organization, 862 cases of avian influenza A (H5N1) have been reported in humans from January 2003 to July 8, 2021, from 17 countries worldwide. Out of these 862 cases, 455 have died.

Dr. Akhilesh K, Clinical Assistant Professor of Respiratory Medicine at Amrita Institute of Medical Science says that a person infected with the bird flu virus can develop severe pneumonia and hypoxia, which can lead to death.

First Death Due to Bird Flu in India: Is This An Alarm Bell?

Dr. Vineeta Singh Tandon, Internal Medicine Consultant at PSRI Hospital, New Delhi, says that the transmission of the virus in humans, is a matter of concern since few strains such as H5N1, are highly pathogenic and have affected humans as documented in the recent outbreak.

The virus has a high tendency to mutate. So, the concern remains that the virus may eventually change to the form which infects humans more rapidly and easily and a possibility of another outbreak may arise
Dr. Vineeta Singh Tandon, Consultant, Internal Medicine, PSRI Hospital, New Delhi

Director of AIIMS Dr. Randeep Guleria was quoting as saying by news agency PTI that human-to-human transmission of the virus is very rare and there is no need to panic.

However, there is a need to do contact tracing and take samples in the area where the boy who died due to the virus was residing, he added.

According to the WHO, there is a need to be vigilant in the animal and public health sector in the case of avian influenza. Monitoring should be continued for detection of cases of infection in humans, infectiousness of the virus and possible early changes in infectiousness.

Human-to-human transmission is rare, but according to experts, people who raise birds may be at risk of bird flu. So we need to be careful not to panic.

"People who come in contact with poultry or infected birds may be at risk of contracting the bird flu virus," experts say.

Dr. Rahul Tambe, Senior Consultant, Internal Medicine and Infectious Diseases at Nanavati Max Super Specialty Hospital, Mumbai, says that the death of an 11-year-old child from Haryana due to H5N1 or bird-flu is unfortunate.

This virus spreads only between birds and other animals. Bird flu virus infection and subsequent death in humans is rare. There is a need for nationwide surveillance and awareness regarding H5N1. Until more conclusive evidence emerges through research, caution is advised.
Dr. Rahul Tambe, Senior Consultant, Internal Medicine and Infectious Diseases, Nanavati Max Super Specialty Hospital, Mumbai

The medical experts said the report of a human death from H5N1 is alarming and needs to be examined thoroughly for its origin and immediate measures need to be taken.

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Preventing Bird Flu: What Precautions Should We Take?

Community awareness of the potential hazards to human health is essential to prevent infection in humans. Dr. Vineeta Singh Tandon, Internal Medicine Consultant at PSRI Hospital, New Delhi suggests a few things to keep in mind:

  • Avoid close contact with wild birds.

  • Avoid contact with birds when they are sick or dead.

  • If you find a dead bird, report to the local authority.

  • If you are removing a dead bird, use gloves, plastic bags that can be disposed of properly.

  • Avoid contact with surfaces that may be contaminated with feces, saliva and mucus of wild or domestic birds.

  • Use raw poultry hygienically.

  • All poultry products, including eggs, should be cooked thoroughly before eating.

  • Poultry workers should follow recommended biosafety and infection control practices including hand hygiene and PPE.

  • Poultry workers should be vaccinated against seasonal influenza every year.

  • If bird flu is reported in your area, avoid visiting poultry farms, bird markets and places where birds are reared or sold.

Symptoms: Bird Flu Vs COVID-19

How can the symptoms of bird flu and COVID-19 be differentiated?

Dr. Tandon says that the symptoms of both the diseases are similar to each other, but there are some symptoms which are more common in one than the other.

The symptoms of flu can take around 1-5 days to appear while the symptoms of Covid can appear in 2-14 days.

Both flu and COVID-19 can cause fever, sore throat, body aches and cough, but the symptoms of coronavirus are gradual and the symptoms are more sudden in the onset of flu.

Symptoms such as difficulty in breathing, loss of taste and smell are more pronounced in Covid than in flu, while diarrhoea, headache, nasal congestion are more common in bird flu.
Dr. Vineeta Singh Tandon, Consultant, Internal Medicine, PSRI Hospital, New Delhi

Symptoms of COVID-19 are mild initially, but can progress rapidly and may require hospitalisation.

On the other hand, flu symptoms are mostly mild and usually go away within a week, although in some cases, hospitalization may be required.

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