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What is Avian Influenza? Know the cause of Bird Flu, how it spreads, its effect on humans here

Tulika Tandon

Why in News?

Lots of dead migratory waterbirds were found at the Pong Dam Lake in Himachal Pradesh, after which tests were conducted only to find them positive for avian influenza or bird flu. This is the fifth state of India to have reported such cases of bird flu after Haryana, Rajasthan, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh.

Avian Influenza in India 

  1. Recently Indian states have witnessed the advent of Bird Flu again. 
  2. Haryana saw around one lakh poultry birds death in Barwala in the last few days.
  3. Rajasthan witnessed the death of several crows in Jhalawar due to avian influenza. 
  4. Some ducks in Kerala also are being reportedly tested positive for the Influenza Virus. 
  5. Almost 50 crows whose carcasses were found in Indore in Madhya Pradesh last week.
  6. Around 1,800 migratory birds out of which most are Bar-Headed Geese that have been found dead in the lake sanctuary in Himachal Pradesh.

What is Avian Influenza or Bird Flu?

  1. Avian influenza is a disease caused by infection with avian (bird) influenza (flu) Type A viruses. Such category of viruses occurs naturally among the wild aquatic birds across the globe. They can infect domestic poultry and other bird and animal species.
  2. Avian influenza A viruses are very contagious among birds and some of these viruses have the potential to even kill certain domesticated bird species including chickens, ducks, and turkeys.
  3. Avian flu viruses normally don’t infect humans. But sporadic human infections with avian flu viruses have occurred. 
Bird flu is a highly infectious and severe respiratory disease in birds caused by the H5N1 influenza virus. It can infect humans as well. As of now, there have been no signs of human-to-human transmissions, as per the World Health Organisation.

The spread of the Virus:

  1. Infected birds can shed avian influenza A viruses in their saliva, nasal secretions, and faeces. 
  2. Any susceptible bird can become infected after having contact with the virus, shed by the infected birds. 
  3. Infection can also be through contacting surfaces contaminated with viruses from infected birds.

Type of Virus

Avian influenza type A viruses are classified into the following two categories:

  • The low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI) A viruses
  • Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) A viruses

Effect on domestic birds

  1. Domesticated birds like chickens or turkeys can get infected with bird flu through 
  2. Direct contact with infected waterfowl or other infected poultry
  3. Through contact with surfaces that have been contaminated with the viruses
  4. Infection of poultry with LPAI viruses can cause no disease or a mild illness which may not even be detected. 
  5. However, infection of poultry with HPAI viruses can cause severe disease with high mortality. 

Suggestions to all Poultry Workers 

To reduce their risk of infection, all poultry workers and responders should do:

  1. They must avoid unprotected direct physical contact with sick birds, poultry carcasses, and poultry faeces or litter.
  2. The workers are guided to wear recommended personal protective equipment (PPE) when in direct contact with birds, poultry carcasses, and poultry faeces etc.
  3. They must at all times wear NIOSH-approved N95 (or higher) respirators in case they contact HPAI H5 virus-infected birds, carcasses or potentially infected materials on an everyday basis. 

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What is the mortality rate of Avian Influenza?

When infected, the mortality rate in humans for avian influenza is around 60%

Can avian influenza infect humans?

Although not much evident, a few cases of human infections have been registered

What causes bird flu?

Avian influenza/ Bird flu is the disease caused by infection with avian (bird) influenza (flu) Type A viruses.

When was avian flu outbreak first noticed?

The Influenza A virus was first detected in 1996 in geese in China. Asian H5N1 was first detected in humans in 1997 while there was a poultry outbreak in Hong Kong. Since then, it has been detected in poultry and wild birds in over 50 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.

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