Amid rising fears about a possible fifth wave of COVID-19 in India, experts have warned about the massive spread of Bird Flu virus in the country. In the latest report issued by the health officials of India, the government has sounded alert in Bihar after several cases of H5N1 virus were confirmed in the state. What is more concerning at the moment are the new mutations which experts have noticed in the virus. Let’s understand how threatful are these new mutations in the virus, and where India stands when it comes to facing an outbreak of the H3N1 virus or the bird flu virus.
New Mutation In Bird Flu Virus Shows High Potential For Humans Outbreak
Bird flu is an air-borne infection caused by strains of the influenza virus that primarily infect birds. The mode of transmission of this virus is via infected body fluids of the birds. The virus mainly affects the avian community of the environment. What about the humans? Although experts had shown cases of human transmission of the H3N1 0r H2N3 virus and the possibility of it entering and evading the immune system, the chances of it causing severe outcomes for humans were too low. But this is not the case anymore. A recent study has revealed something unusual and new. According to the scientists, they have identified new mutations in the avian influenza virus H5N1, which recently infected a man in Chile, and may pose a risk of spreading in humans.
According to the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC), the risk of spread from human to human remains low but the new changes seen are ‘concerning’. It also suggests that the potential risk of human spillover is increasing.
Last month in a statement, Chile’s Health Ministry confirmed that a 53-year-old man has tested positive for the H5N1 virus. As per the medical reports, the man was reported to be in serious but stable condition with a severe pneumonia-like condition.
China Reports First Bird Flu Death
This comes a few days after Chin confirmed the first human death by the Bird Flu virus. The World Health Organisation (WHO) confirmed the death of a 56-year-old Chinese woman due to the H3N8 bird flu strain that is rare in humans. The H3N8 subtype of avian influenza is a rare strain of the virus and it is unusual to spread among the human community.
Talking about this rare case of bird flu death in China, the WHO confirmed that the virus responsible for the infection was influenza A(H3), which is very common in birds and extremely rare for humans. As per the global health body, there were no additional cases reported among people who had been in close contact with the infected individual.
Avian Influenza: Can This Bird Virus Turn Into a Human Virus
The virus responsible for severe human infections has been identified as H7N9 and H5N1. The symptoms that are commonly reported by the patients are like the common flu, such as fever, body aches, sore – throat, and cough. Speaking to the media, Richard J. Webby, a bird flu expert at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital stated that to become threatful to the human community the H5 virus will have to undergo three major categories of changes. “The sequences from the person in Chile have one of those classes of changes. But we also know that of those three sets of changes, this is the easiest one for the virus to make,” Jude was quoted as saying.
How to detect the H3N1 virus infection in humans? Bird flu infection is usually diagnosed by collecting a swab from the upper respiratory tract of the sick person. “The disease can carry high mortality in humans. Some antiviral drugs, if taken within two days of symptoms, may help. Oseltamivir or Tamiflu is one of the drugs effective against bird flu,” said Dr Nitin Verma Director Pediatrics Rosewalk Healthcare.
Bird Flu Outbreak: How Big Is The Threat For India?
As the speculations of the H5 virus turning into a human virus from a bird virus is on the rise in India, we spoke to Dr Anamika Dubey, Senior Consultant, General Paediatrician, Madhukar Rainbow Children’s Hospital, Malviya Nagar.
Dr Dubey said, “In the United States, there are repeated outbreaks of H5 N1 in wild birds and poultry since 2022. In India H5N1 in poultry farms was first reported in 2006 in Maharashtra. Since then outbreaks of Avian influenza A in poultry farms is reported every year. One human case of H5n1 was notified on 21 July 2021 from Haryana state.”
Talking about the safety measures that one can take during a bird flu outbreak, Dr Dubey said, “As advised by WHO, at all times the public should avoid contact with high-risk environments such as live animal markets/farms and live poultry, or surfaces that might be contaminated by poultry or bird faeces. Hand hygiene with frequent hand washing with soap and water is recommended. Good food safety practices should be followed. There is no evidence to suggest that Influenza a or other avian influenza viruses can be transmitted to humans through properly cooked poultry. There is no epidemiological evidence to suggest that people have been infected with avian influenza virus by consumption of eggs or egg products. However, eggs from areas with outbreaks in poultry should not be consumed raw or partially cooked.”