Bird flu in Bangalore: must we panic?

Avian influenza or bird flu has scared Bangaloreans. But this infection can be avoided through awareness and precautions.

As the fear of bird flu looms over Bangalore, here are some facts that one ought to know:

What is bird flu?
Flu stands for influenza, a viral infection caused by the flu virus. And bird flu is ‘flu occurring in birds’. Depending on minor differences on the genetic make up of the virus, influenza virus is of type A, B and C. The current outbreak is caused by a subtype of influenza A, known as H5N1.

If it is an infection of birds, why should humans be worried?
Humans can catch bird flu directly through close contact with live infected birds. It spreads when infected birds shed the virus in their secretions (saliva, nasal secretions) and feaces. It can also spread through contact with surfaces like bird cages contaminated with secretions or excretions of infected birds. This makes the people who work with infected chickens the most at risk. Also infected birds transmit the virus to healthy birds in the same way. But person to person transmission has not been reported.

Can it be transmitted through food? Should one stop eating chicken?
There is no evidence that avian influenza can be transmitted through cooked food even if poultry or poultry products are contaminated with the virus. But it is always safe to eat properly cooked chicken. Normal cooking temperatures (70ºC/158ºF or higher) are fatal to the virus-but all parts of the bird or egg must be fully cooked at this temperature. People handling or preparing raw poultry must also ensure that juices or blood do not contaminate other food or drink.

What are the symptoms of bird flu? When should one worry? What do I do when I find a dead bird?
Symptoms in birds can vary from symptoms like ruffled feathers, discolouration of feathers, lack of energy and appetite, drop in egg production to severe symptoms which could end in death of the birds. Such birds are infectious (capable of transmitting the virus) to other birds as well as to the bird handlers. Once such infected birds reach the chicken shops from poultry, the common person begins to be at a big risk. Bird handlers should be very cautious with such sick looking birds. When one sees a dead bird or a sick bird, one could infrom the BBMP or the number given at the end of this article. People should bury the internal organs of the chicken to avoid the spread of bird flu. It is more worrisome if a bird dies after showing symptoms of bird flu.

Symptoms in humans usually develop between 2 to 8 days after exposure. They include fever, sore throat, cough, muscle aches, watery eye discharge with redness. So, any person with these symptoms and a history of exposure to a sick bird or a visit to a poultry farm can be a suspect. Remember that the human influenza virus, which causes flu or common cold and is a very common infection in humans, also presents with similar symptoms only. So if you are sure of not having been in contact with a sick bird, do not panic. But since many of the symptoms mimic those of human flu, be sure to consult your doctor once.

Also see: Doctors ask citizens not to panic over H1N1 scare
Even as Bangalore reports its first swine flu-linked fatality, doctors in the city are asking the public not to panic. Also attached: list of hospitals treating H1N1 in the city.

Is there a treatment for bird flu?
Due to the small number of human cases, it has not been possible to conduct rigorous treatment trials for bird flu. Tamiflu (oseltamivir phosphate) and Relenza (zanamivir) are the two FDA-approved influenza antiviral drugs. These work best when started at the earliest. But injudicious use, like starting the medication on every person with flu symptoms could result in resistance of the virus to these drugs. Older drugs, amantadine and rimantadine, are approved for treatment and prevention of influenza A. But many strains of influenza, including the 2009 H1N1 influenza, are now resistant to these two drugs.

How can I protect myself/my family from avian flu?
1. Stay away from live bird markets, local poultry farms, or any other settings where there might be infected poultry.
2. Avoid touching surfaces that could have been contaminated by bird saliva, excreta, or urine
3. In general, washing hands prevents viruses and other contagious illnesses from spreading. Be sure to wash your hands with soap and water frequently and thoroughly, particularly before preparing meals and eating, and after taking care of a sick person.

Is there any vaccine to prevent bird flu?
There is no such vaccine, at present.

What is the current scenario of bird flu in Bangalore? What is being done about this problem?
Over 3,000 turkeys died due to bird flu at the state-run Central Poultry Development Organisation (CDPO) in Hessarghatta on the outskirts of the city during the last week of October. Over 700 birds on the same farm were scientifically disposed off as a precautionary measure. The state government acting in concert with the Animal Husbandary department, which takes charge of such problems, has declared the 10 km radius of Hesaraghatta as an infected zone and deployed 25 rapid response teams to take preventive steps in the 68 surrounding villages. The government has also opened a control room in the office of Commissioner of Animal Husbandry – contact 080-22866397 for help.

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