AIIMS, New Delhi, reported the first bird flu death in the country on July 20. The 12-year-old boy had been infected with avian flu and was being treated at the hospital.
All staff members who were exposed to him are currently under isolation, monitoring themselves for any signs and symptoms of the flu.
Avian flu, as the name suggests, is usually a virus that is transmitted among birds.
However, on rare occasions, it can be transmitted from a live bird to a nearby human. The viral particles spread the disease through an infected bird’s saliva, mucous and faeces.
Earlier in the year, many Indian states had seen an epidemic of avian or bird flu in their poultry populations. This was at a time when India was in the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic. In case of an avian flu outbreak, the poultry population is usually culled for safety reasons.
When the 12-year-old boy presented himself to the hospital with his symptoms, doctors first believed it to be a case of COVID-19. After the test results came back negative, they thought it might be the influenza virus. It was only when the child developed leukaemia and pneumonia, that doctors reckoned that something else was at play. His samples were sent to the National Institute of Virology, Pune, where he tested positive for bird flu.
All hospital staffers who came in contact with the child were immediately contact traced and monitored by the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).
Cause for Concern?
While it is always advisable to take precautions, bird flu cannot easily infect humans. The viral cells have not yet adapted to latch onto and infect human cells effectively. This leads to very low rates of infection.
This in general means that the flu does not jump from birds to humans, though it has been documented before. Human-to-human transmission is even rarer. World Health Organization (WHO) data shows that between January 2003 and July 8, 2021, there were 239 cases of human infection due to the virus.
But bird flu, in the rare cases when it is transmitted, is deadly. The mortality rate of the virus is at 60 percent, compared to 3 percent for the COVID-19 virus.
“The transmission of the virus from birds to humans is rare and sustained human-to-human transmission of the H5N1 virus has not yet been established and therefore there is no need to panic. People working closely with poultry must take precautionary measures and maintain proper personal hygiene,” AIIMS chief Dr Randeep Guleria said.
(Edited by : Shoma Bhattacharjee)
First Published: IST