Bhopal/New Delhi: Contrary to what some people think that the bird flu virus, also known as Avian influenza, is spread to humans via consumption of cooked poultry products, health experts on Sunday stressed that it usually does not infect people as the virus is heat-labile (degraded and killed when subjected to heat). 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.
According to the World Health organisation (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.
Richa Sareen, consultant (pulmonology) at Fortis Vasant Kunj in New Delhi, said the virus is heat-labile and it gets killed with cooking temperatures. "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," Sareen 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.
Although the virus causing bird flu usually does not infect people, but rare cases of human infection with these viruses have been reported, especially in individuals working with infected domestic birds. "The possible cause of infections in humans is when they come in contact with birds with the viruses and enough viruses get into a person's eyes, nose or mouth, or is inhaled through the excretions of birds," said Kunal Kothari, Senior Physician, Internal Medicine, SMS Medical College in Jaipur. "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," Kothari added.
Bird Flu is a communicable virus among the avian population and human to human spread is not too prominent with the current strain. However, viruses are prone to mutation, so if this virus undergoes mutation in future, it has the potential to spread from human to human and cause a pandemic.
Bird flu mostly infects the respiratory system of humans. Common symptoms are fever, runny nose, sore throat, cough, muscle aches, etc. "If severe, it can cause ARDS, multi-organ involvement and even death. The sporadic data on bird flu from the past shows very high mortality, to the tune of 60 per cent. Thus, it becomes important to take precautions now," Sareen mentioned.
Nevertheless, maintaining distance from birds in the environment is important as the spread of the avian virus is through the saliva, faecal matter of an infected bird. "The avian virus is airborne. Notify the community health department on seeing sick or dead birds and try not to come in direct contact with these birds without proper masks, gloves and disinfectants," Kothari noted.
The Central government has issued a status report of avian influenza in the country, saying the disease has been confirmed in seven states.
The Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry & Dairying (DAHD) has issued an advisory to the affected states so as to avoid further spread of disease.