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FAQ Bird Flu: Can You Eat Chicken & Eggs? How to Handle Raw Meat?

All you need to know about the risk of bird flu to humans and how we can avoid getting sick. 

Updated
FAQ
4 min read
All you need to know about the risk of bird flu to humans and the precautions to be kept in mind while cooking meat.
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Maharashtra and Delhi on Monday, 11 January, became the eighth and ninth states, respectively, to confirm positive cases for bird flu or avian influenza.

In the past 10 days, lakhs of birds, including poultry, ducks, crows and migratory birds, have died in the country.

Avian influenza refers to the disease caused by infection with avian (bird) influenza (flu) Type A viruses. These viruses occur naturally among wild aquatic birds worldwide and can infect domestic poultry and other bird and animal species.

In light of the outbreak, FIT answers some most common questions around bird flu, meat consumption, and if there is a risk to humans.

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Can the Virus Spread to Humans?

The flu primarily affects birds - but humans who come in direct contact with sick birds may get infected. There is no need to panic as human to human spread is not too prominent with the current strain.

“Infection in humans is not yet reported in India though the disease is zoonotic,” the Union Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying said in a statement.

Dr Harshal R. Salve, Associate Professor at Centre for Community Medicine, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) told IANS,

“People who work closely with poultry are at high risk of getting the infection. Otherwise, human to human transmission of the H5N1 virus is very rare.”
Dr Harshal R. Salve

The infected birds might continue to spread the virus in their faeces and saliva for as long as 10 days. Touching such surfaces might spread the infection to humans.

“The spread of Bird Flu from one individual, who is sick to another has been very rare and data is limited, inefficient and not sustained but as a precaution, we should all be watchful of public health advisory.” Dr Kunal Kothari, Senior Physician, Internal Medicine, SMS Medical College in Jaipur, told IANS.

Is it Safe to Consume Chicken and Eggs?

AI is not transmitted through cooked food. To date, no evidence indicates that anyone has become infected following the consumption of properly cooked poultry or poultry products, even when these foods were contaminated with the avian influenza virus., the Centre has said in its revised Action Plan for Prevention, Control & Containment of Avian Influenza.

“There is no evidence available that suggests the spread of bird flu through eating meat or eggs. Nonetheless, eating raw meat and eggs should be avoided in the affected region till the incidents come down,” Dr Salve told IANS.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said it is ‘safe’ to eat chicken and eggs as long as it is ‘properly prepared and cooked’.

“As a standard precaution, WHO recommends that poultry, poultry products, and wild game birds should always be prepared following good hygienic practices and that poultry meat should be properly cooked,” the WHO adds.

Does Heat/Cooking Kill the Virus?

Dr Praveen Gupta, Director and Head Neurology, Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurgaon, tells FIT, “Yes, cooking the same at 70-degree Celsius keeps food safe and ensures that the virus is killed.”

“Soiled/stale and runny eggs, chicken and poultry should be avoided at all costs.”
Dr Praveen Gupta

“It must be emphasized that poultry meat cooked at more than 70ºC temperatures for 30 minutes inactivates the virus and it is absolutely safe to consume properly cooked poultry meat and eggs,” the Centre has noted.

According to the WHO, cooking of poultry (e.g. chicken, ducks and geese) at or above 70 degree Celsius so that absolutely no meat remains raw and red, is a safe measure to kill the virus in areas with outbreaks in poultry

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How Should You Be Handling Raw Meat at Home?

Dr Praveen Gupta advises that people handling raw meat in the infected regions should wash their hands properly and avoid contact with bird droppings.

“At this time, people should eat fully cooked chicken and eggs and not raw or partially cooked ones. One should avoid going to open markets that sell poultry as they are the focal point of the spread,” Richa Sareen, consultant (pulmonology) at Fortis Vasant Kunj in New Delhi, told IANS.

“People who handle poultry should take special precautions. They should wear PPE, gloves and masks while handling birds and should practice frequent hand washing,” she added.

“Wash your hands with warm water and soap, especially before and after handling the raw poultry and eggs. Use different utensils for cooking raw meat and make sure meat is cooked properly until steaming hot. Avoid direct contact with live and poultry birds.”
Dr Upali Nanda, Head, Preventive Health & Consultant-Medicine, Medeor Hospital Qutab Institutional Area (Delhi), told IANS

Some General Safety Tips for Consumers

The central government gives the following recommendations in its action plan:

  • Normal temperatures used for cooking (70oC in all parts of the food) will kill the virus. Consumers need to be sure that all parts of the poultry are fully cooked (no “pink” parts) and that eggs, too, are properly cooked (no “runny” yolks).
  • Consumers should also be aware of the risk of cross-contamination. During food preparation, raw poultry and poultry products should never be allowed to mix with items eaten raw.
  • When handling raw poultry or raw poultry products, persons involved in food preparation should wash their hands thoroughly and clean and disinfect surfaces in contact with the poultry products. Soap and hot water are sufficient for this purpose.
  • In areas experiencing outbreaks in poultry, raw eggs should not be used in foods that will not be further heat-treated as, for example by cooking or baking.
  • AI is not transmitted through cooked food. To date, no evidence indicates that anyone has become infected following the consumption of properly cooked poultry or poultry products, even when these foods were contaminated with the avian influenza virus

(With inputs from IANS)

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