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Bird flu scare: What is avian influenza and can it lead to a pandemic like Covid-19? What do the experts say? health news


After a rare human case of bird flu was discovered in Texas, US experts have warned that a bird flu pandemic with the potential to be “100 times worse than COVID” could 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 that primarily affects birds. There are several strains of the avian influenza virus, some of which can infect humans and other animals. The most common strains that infect humans are H5N1 and H7N9. These viruses usually reside in the respiratory and digestive tracts of infected birds,” said Dr Mohan Kumar Singh.

How does bird flu spread?

Avian influenza is spread through various means. “First, direct contact with infected birds, their saliva, nasal secretions, and feces may facilitate transmission of the virus. Additionally, indirect contact poses a risk, as individuals may become infected by touching surfaces contaminated with the virus, such as cages, clothing, or equipment. ,” said Dr. Mohan Kumar Singh. Furthermore, although rare, avian influenza viruses can be transmitted by inhalation of respiratory droplets from infected birds, highlighting the possibility of airborne spread. Dr. Singh added, “These multiple routes of transmission emphasize the importance of implementing preventive measures to reduce contact with infected birds and contaminated surfaces, thereby reducing the risk of avian influenza transmission to humans.”

Symptoms of bird flu

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

– cough
– Sore throat
– Muscle aches
Difficulty breathing
– Pneumonia
– Conjunctivitis (pink eye)
– Gastrointestinal symptoms (eg diarrhoea)

Severe cases of avian influenza can lead to complications like respiratory failure and even death, doctors said.

How to prevent bird flu

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

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

Dr. Singh also pointed out that prevention through vaccination of poultry and monitoring of bird population is crucial in controlling the spread of avian influenza. “Additionally, rapid identification and isolation of infected individuals can help prevent further transmission in humans,” added Dr. Singh.

H5N1 strain of bird flu: should you be worried?

Dr Singh said the H5N1 strain of bird flu is highly lethal to both birds and humans, with mortality rates of 30% to 60% reported in 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 usually occurs through close contact with infected individuals,” said Dr Singh.

While H5N1 remains a significant concern, rapid public health interventions and genetic characterization of the virus have helped contain the outbreak and prevent widespread transmission in humans, doctors said. “Continued monitoring and research are essential to understanding and mitigating the risks associated with H5N1 and other emerging infectious diseases.”