All About Avian Influenza: Can Humans Contract Bird Flu?

The Delhi government is the latest to confirm the outbreak of bird flu in India after Kerala, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Gujarat, and Uttar Pradesh reported cases of avian influenza.

The fear of contracting bird flu has hit the sale of egg, chicken, and other poultry. The demand has dropped more than 70 percent, poultry traders have said. Poultry Federation of India president Ramesh Khatri told IANS that chicken sales had fallen by almost 70 to 80 percent over the last four days, while prices had fallen 50 percent. Eggs were being sold at a 15 to 20 percent discount.

Can humans get bird flu?

Avian influenza is a viral infection that spreads from bird to bird. Though there are several types of bird flu, the H5N1 strain of influenza is its most common form. India has so far detected two strains — H5N1 and H8N1 — of the avian virus.

As per an Indian Express report, samples from Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Kerala have tested positive for the H5N8 strain of the virus, while samples from Himachal Pradesh detected the presence of H5N1.

According to the World Health Organization, animal influenza viruses are distinct from human seasonal influenza viruses and do not easily transmit between humans.

However, it may occasionally infect humans through direct or indirect contact.

How does bird flu transmit to humans?

Human infections with avian influenza (H5N1) virus occur through bird-to-human, possibly environment-to-human, and very rarely limited, non-sustained human-to-human transmission, the WHO says.

Direct contact with infected poultry, or with surfaces and objects contaminated by their droppings, is the main transmission route to humans.

Exposure risk is considered highest when there is contact with infected avian faecal material in the environment, especially during slaughter, de-feathering, butchering, and poultry preparation for cooking.

Is it safe to eat chicken eggs?

Contrary to popular belief, the bird flu virus does not spread through poultry consumption as the virus is heat-labile (degraded and killed when subjected to heat).

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

Also, there is no evidence that properly cooked poultry or poultry products can be a source of infection.

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