Hundreds of thousands of birds are being culled across the country as India grapples with a growing outbreak of a highly pathogenic avian influenza, which has led to the deaths of lakhs of birds in the last 10 days.
Cases have so far been reported from five states and the central government has issued an alert, and has launched a drive to identify those with suspected flu symptoms in the affected areas.
The highly contagious viral disease, caused by Influenza Type A viruses, poses the risk of becoming the next global scare as widespread cases have also been reported from Europe and Eastern Asia. There are many strains of the virus and the one spreading is said to affect only birds, for now.
Here’s Everything You Need to Know:
Which Indian States Have Been Affected So far?
On Tuesday, Himachal Pradesh became the fifth state in the country to have confirmed bird flu cases in the last one week. This comes after the same virus was detected in Rajasthan, Kerala, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh. Lakhs of poultry were reported dead from Haryana, migratory birds were found dead in Himachal Pradesh and hundreds of cows died in Madhya Pradesh.
As per an order issued on Monday, the district magistrate of Kangra has declared a ban on sale or culling of poultry in the alert zone and asked shops selling poultry or fish to remain closed. Movement of tourists or locals was also prohibited within 1 km radius of the Pong Dam lake. In Rajasthan, Section 144 was imposed in a 1km radius of the Balaji area of Jhalawar district as a precaution and in Kerala, Kottayam and Alappuzha districts have been put on high alert. Culling of ducks, hens and other domestic birds in and around a one km radius of the affected areas was carried out.
Which Other Countries Have Reported Cases of Bird Flu?
In the last few weeks, avian influenza has hit at least 10 European countries – Netherlands, Germany, France, Belgium, United Kingdom, Denmark, Sweden, Poland, Croatia, and Ukraine, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).
Cases have also been reported in South Korea and Japan, where this has been the worst bird flu outbreak on record, having reached over 20 per cent of its 47 prefectures. The UK has seen disturbing scenes of swans spinning in circles and bleeding from their nostrils, a phenomena being investigated for its possible link to the bird flu.
France: In a bid to control avian influenza, France would cull around 6,00,000 poultry birds. France is among European countries to have reported highly contagious strains of bird flu late last year, leading to mass culls as authorities try to limit transmission from wild birds to farm flocks. The country has already slaughtered around 200,000 poultry and plans to cull a further 400,000 birds, a farm ministry official told Reuters.
Germany: About 62,000 turkeys and ducks will be slaughtered after bird flu was found on more poultry farms in Germany, Reuters reported. Type H5N8 bird flu was confirmed in two farms in the Cloppenburg region in the northern state of Lower Saxony. A series of outbreaks of bird flu have been reported in Europe in past weeks, with wild birds suspected to be spreading the disease.
South Korea: The country reported its first highly pathogenic H5N8 strain of bird flu in wild birds in October, and South Korea’s agriculture ministry issued a temporary nationwide standstill order for poultry farms and related transport in a bid to contain a wider spread of bird flu. The movement control order has been put in place for 48 hours for all poultry farms and livestock production facilities.
Japan: Japan’s government has also called for disinfections of poultry farms across the country to contain an outbreak. Infections have been detected in six regional prefectures since last month in Japan’s worst outbreak in more than four years.
How Severe is the Scare?
While people to people transmission is not easy, H5N1 is severe and deadly – around 6 out of 10 confirmed cases in humans have led to deaths. The actual mortality rate, however, may be lower due to under-reporting of asymptomatic cases.
According to the WHO, people coming in close contact with infected alive or dead birds can contract the H5N1 bird flu, but it usually does not spread from person to person. There is also no evidence, that the disease can be spread to people through properly prepared and cooked poultry food. The virus is sensitive to heat, and dies in cooking temperatures, the WHO says. If the virus mutates and becomes easily transmissible from person to person, say by altering its shape to grab human cells much more effectively, it can potentially cause a pandemic.