Avian Flu (Update)

Although, a bird suffering from avian influenza will show no sign of illness, it can result in large-scale outbreaks where mass culling of fowl raised for human consumption could be required in order to contain the infection. The national zoo and deer park in New Delhi is indefinitely closed in current scenario. The death of almost a dozen of water birds in the city, due to bird flu, has raised the collective alarm about how to contain the spread and whether humans are at stake. India intermittently suffers the infection, with annual regularity. The essay examines the issue and speaks to experts about whether there is any cause of panic.

Update on October 25, 2016

Since October 14, a total of 64 birds have been found dead across Delhi due to Avian flu. More than 50,000 samples from the various birding sites in Delhi have been sent to research labs for analysis. Some of the dead birds showed symptoms of the ‘Ranikhet disease’. If that is the case, authorities say, other precautions may need to be taken also.

According to the Delhi government, laboratories are to be blamed for delaying the reports of samples sent. This is also the reason why the government has device an action plan.

On October 22, the Indian government issues a directive that said that consuming well-cooked eggs and chicken is well within safety limits.

Now with the situation aggravating, the government has released a statement on October 25 asking people to stay away from raw meat, half-boiled eggs and raw poultry trimmings of any sort. Apart from this, an 11-point advisory to the city residents has also been issued. These are: –

Do’s: –

  1. Avoid direct contact with bird secretions
  2. Clean all feeders, water cages, used for birds with detergents (soap/surf). Properly dispose all slaughter waste.
  3. Not to touch dead birds with bare hands and to inform the control room. They have advised citizens to call 011-2389-0318 for further action.
  4. Wash hands frequently at the time of dealing with raw poultry products. Take due care of personal hygiene. Maintain cleanliness in surrounding.
  5. Always use mask and gloves at the time of dealing with raw chicken/chicken products.
  6. Eat only cooked meat and meat products (100oC)
  7. In case any pond etc. is near your locality, which is not being disinfected with lime etc., then inform on above mention control room.

Don’ts: –

  1. Do not consume uncooked chicken or eggs
  2. Do not consume half cooked chicken/bird or half boiled or half fried eggs
  3. Prevent exposure from sick looking (sluggish) chicken
  4. Do not keep raw meat near the cooked meat


On October 18, nine birds were reported to have died at The National Zoological Park, New Delhi. The samples sent to a research facility in Jalandhar, ascertained the cause of death. They declared avian flu as the culprit. According to the Delhi Zoo authorities, the painted storks, ducks, and pelicans had migrated locally. This is a reason for concern as there is an increased possibility of the spread of the infection from wild birds to domestic poultry. Incidentally, migratory water ducks are the commonest carriers of bird flu.

Five birds and three crows were reported dead in Deer Park and Sundar Nagar, respectively following the cases reported at the Delhi Zoo. The Deer Park as well as the Delhi Zoo have been closed indefinitely as a precautionary measure. (https://goo.gl/LhUyWs)

Avian influenza (AI) is an infectious viral disease in birds, often causing no apparent signs of illness. AI (H5N1) viruses can sometimes spread to domestic poultry and cause large-scale outbreaks of serious disease. Some of these AI viruses have also been reported to cross the species barrier and cause disease or subclinical infections in humans and other mammals. (https://goo.gl/59Ilpe)

AI viruses are divided into 2 groups based on their ability to cause fatality in poultry: high pathogenicity or low pathogenicity.

People catch bird flu by coming in close contact with birds or bird droppings. Some people have caught H5N1 from cleaning or plucking infected birds. It’s also possible that some people were infected after swimming or bathing in water contaminated with the droppings of infected birds. However, the virus is not transported by eating fully cooked chicken or eggs. (https://goo.gl/3YKPS7)

Possible reasons for occurrence of avian influenza in India:
A number of factors contribute to make India vulnerable to primary incursion of avian influenza into the country. These include,

  • high density of poultry population;
  • mixed rearing of chicken and ducks;
  • West Pacific Flyway, East Asian-Australasian Flyway, and the Central Asian Flyway of migratory birds passing through the country;
  • illegal movement of poultry and poultry products from infected areas into the country; presence of various water-bodies visited by migratory/wild birds;
  • inadequate bio-security in backyard rearing;
  • inadequate sanitation of wholesale and retail poultry markets;
  • endemic situation of avian influenza in Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, China and Myanmar and,
  • porous nature of the border. (https://goo.gl/gQYQbA)

Surveillance and Monitoring: –
A robust surveillance plan was prepared in November, 2013 by the Indian government. Under this plan, general surveillance in absence of Al outbreak includes passive surveillance which is basically clinical surveillance and active surveillance envisaging collection of samples, both virological as well serological samples, from poultry for agent and antibody detections and targeted surveillance on wild birds, live birds markets, ducks and water fowls. Intensive surveillance is carried out during Al outbreaks in the designate surveillance zone.

Reports of unusual mortality in poultry and wild birds are constantly reviewed by the department and samples are immediately required to be sent to the concerned Regional Disease Diagnostic Laboratory (RDDL) and NIHSAD, Bhopal for disease diagnosis. In the event of avian influenza outbreak (table 1), the concerned state and the adjoining states are alerted immediately. (https://goo.gl/gQYQbA)

Although there has been an outbreak of the disease almost every other year, India has never had a human case of H5N1 viral infection.

Dr. Srinivasan, a practicing paediatrician in Delhi talking to the G’nY team and said that, “No avian infection has been reported in humans in India, and thus we still do not know if it is communicable between people. In 2013, China detected the infection in a human and concluded that the symptoms of the disease include conjunctivitis, runny nose, cough and fever. Pneumonia and multi-organ failure can also be seen in rare cases. Oseltamivir is the drug of choice to treat the infected. It may be consumed either on a high index of suspicion or as a preventive measure for people handling birds”.

Dr Raman Abhi, additional director, Internal Medicine, Fortis Memorial Research Institute, New Delhi, speaking with G’nY mentioned that, “since there have been no cases in India, a patient will be suspected of the disease only if he/she has been exposed to infected poultry or individual. However, though the treatment would be similar to swine flu, one must avoid self medication and home remedies and immediately seek medical attention.”

Table 1: Avian influenza outbreaks in India

Episode Period State Affected Number of Epicenters Number of Birds Culled (in lakhs) Compensation Paid (in INR lakhs)
1st Feb – Apr, 2006 Maharashtra 28 9.4 270.00
Feb, 2006 Gujarat 1 0.92 32.00
2nd Mar, 2006 Madhya Pradesh 1 0.09 3.00
3rd July, 2007 Manipur 1 3.39 94.00
4th Jan-May, 2008 West Bengal 68 42.62 1229.00
5th Apr, 2008 Tripura 3 1.93 71.00
6th Nov-Dec, 2008 Assam 18 5.09 170.00
7th Dec, 2008 – May, 2009 West Bengal 11 2.01 36.00
8th Jan, 2009 Sikkim 1 0.04 3.00
9th Jan, 2010 West Bengal 12 1.56 68.80
10th Feb-Mar, 2011 Tripura 2 0.21 2.40
11th Sept, 2011 Assam 1 0.15 6.52
12th Sept, 2011 West Bengal 2 0.49 19.29
13th Jan, 2012 Odisha 1 0.32 24.71
14th Jan, 2012 Meghalaya 1 0.07 7.89
15th Jan, 2012 Odisha 1 0.11 5.87
16th Jan, 2012 Tripura 1 0.06 1.20
17th Feb, 2012 Odisha 1 0.38 2.86
18th Mar, 2012 Tripura 1 0.05 0.09
19th Apr, 2012 Tripura 1 0.02 0.72
20th Oct, 2012 Karnataka 1 0.33 0.00**
21st Mar, 2013 Bihar 1 0.06 2.06
22nd Aug, 2013 Chhattisgarh 2 0.31 0.00**
23rd Nov – Dec, 2014 Kerala 6 2.77 379.51
24th Dec, 2014 Chandigarh 1 110 0.00**
25th Jan, 2015 Kerala 1 0.08 2.16
Total 168 72.46 2432.08

** – Government Farms / Lakes (No Compensation Paid)
Source: Department of Animal Husbandry, Dairying & Fisheries (https://goo.gl/gQYQbA)

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