Bird Flu Scare: What Is Avian Influenza And Can It Lead To Covid-19-Like Pandemic? What Expert Says

Bird Flu Scare: What Is Avian Influenza And Can It Lead To Covid-19-Like Pandemic? What Expert Says

After a rare human case of bird flu was discovered in Texas, experts in the US have warned, that the bird flu pandemic with the potential to be “100 times worse than COVID” may be on the horizon. But how real is the threat? Dr Mohan Kumar Singh, Senior Consultant – Internal Medicine, Marengo Asia Hospital, Gurugram, shares his insights on bird flu.

What Is Bird Flu?

“Avian influenza, commonly known as bird flu, is a viral infection primarily affecting birds. There are various strains of avian influenza viruses, some of which can infect humans and other animals. The most common strains that infect humans are H5N1 and H7N9. These viruses typically reside in infected birds’ respiratory and digestive tracts,” says Dr Mohan Kumar Singh.

How Bird Flu Spreads

Avian influenza spreads through various means. “Firstly, direct contact with infected birds, their saliva, nasal secretions, and faeces can facilitate the transmission of the virus. Additionally, indirect contact poses a risk, as individuals can become infected by touching surfaces contaminated with the virus, such as cages, clothing, or equipment,” says Dr Mohan Kumar Singh.  Furthermore, although rare, avian influenza viruses can be transmitted through inhalation of respiratory droplets from infected birds, highlighting the potential for airborne spread. Dr Singh adds, “These multiple pathways of transmission underscore the importance of implementing preventive measures to minimize contact with infected birds and contaminated surfaces, thereby reducing the risk of avian influenza transmission to humans.”

Symptoms Of Bird Flu

The symptoms of avian influenza in humans can range from mild to severe and may include, as listed by Dr Singh:

– Fever

– Cough

– Sore throat

– Muscle aches

– Difficulty breathing

– Pneumonia

– Conjunctivitis (pink eye)

– Gastrointestinal symptoms (such as diarrhoea)

Severe cases of avian influenza can lead to complications such as respiratory failure and even death, the doctor said.

How To Prevent Bird Flu

To prevent the spread of avian influenza, several key preventive measures should be followed. Dr Singh advises, “Firstly, minimising contact with live poultry and birds, particularly in areas where outbreaks have occurred, is essential to reduce the risk of transmission. Secondly, maintaining proper hygiene practices is crucial; individuals should wash their hands frequently with soap and water, especially after handling birds or visiting markets where live poultry are sold.” 

Additionally, ensuring that poultry and eggs are thoroughly cooked before consumption is important, as cooking effectively kills the virus. It’s also advisable to avoid touching surfaces that may be contaminated with bird droppings or secretions, the doctor says. Dr Singh adds, “Finally, when handling sick or dead birds, wearing appropriate personal protective equipment, such as gloves and masks, is recommended to minimize the risk of infection. By adhering to these preventive measures, individuals can help mitigate the spread of avian influenza and protect themselves from potential infection.”

Dr Singh also mentions that prevention through vaccination of poultry and surveillance of bird populations is crucial in controlling the spread of avian influenza. “Additionally, prompt identification and isolation of infected individuals can help prevent further transmission to humans,” Dr Singh adds.

H5N1 Strain Of Bird Flu: Should You Be Worried?

Dr Singh says the H5N1 strain of bird flu is highly lethal to both birds and humans, with reported case fatality rates ranging from 30% to 60% among infected humans. “However, unlike COVID-19, H5N1 has not caused a pandemic due to its limited ability to spread efficiently from person to person. Human-to-human transmission of H5N1 is rare and typically occurs through close contact with infected individuals,” says Dr Singh. 

While H5N1 remains a significant concern, swift public health interventions and the virus’s genetic characteristics have helped to contain outbreaks and prevent widespread transmission among humans, the doctor says. “Continued monitoring and research are essential to understand and mitigate the risks associated with H5N1 and other emerging infectious diseases.”

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