Bird flu outbreak: Mass deaths of birds in north India; Kerala issues high alert, declares virus as state-specific disaster

These viruses are found in wild aquatic birds and can infect domestic poultry and other bird and animal species too.

The mysterious deaths of thousands of birds, across species, in several parts of India have prompted concerns about bird flu.

Samples of migratory birds that were found dead in Himachal Pradesh’s Pong Dam Lake have tested positive for bird flu, which is also known as avian influenza, making HP the fifth state to report suspected cases of the respiratory disease caused by the avian influenza (flu) Type A viruses.

Representational Picture | iStock Images

Other states that have confirmed bird flu cases include Haryana, Rajasthan, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh.

In Rajasthan, more than 170 new deaths of birds were reported on Monday, taking the total toll to over 400. However, officials say bird flu has so far been confirmed only in the state’s Jhalawar district.

File Photo | AP

In Kerala, culling of birds such as ducks and hens is being done within 1 km radius of affected areas in the districts of Kottayam and Alappuzha.

Meanwhile, in Himachal’s Kangra district, where some 2,300 migratory birds, mostly bar-headed geese, were found dead in Pong Dam lake, authorities have suspended tourism; and sale and purchase of poultry, meat and meat products has been banned in some areas of the district.

Representational Picture | ©Jenny Washburn/USDA

The problem is not limited to India.

China banned poultry imports from Ireland last month due to detection of the H5N8 bird flu. China has reported an outbreak of H5N8 in swans in Shanxi province.

Japan and Korea have also seen outbreaks, caused due to two separate HPAI viruses, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation. The strains circulating in Asia and Europe both originated in wild birds, researchers say.

File Photo | AP

What is bird flu?

Avian influenza is a disease caused by infection with avian flu Type A viruses. These viruses are found naturally in wild aquatic birds around the world and can infect domestic poultry as well as other bird and animal species. Though they don’t normally infect humans, avian flu viruses amongst humans have been reported.

Representational Picture | Photo Credit: Stuart Williams / Flickr

Bird flu viruses are divided into low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI) A viruses and highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) A viruses based on their molecular characteristics and potency. While poultry infection caused by LPAI causes mild or no disease, HPAI leads to severe disease and high mortality. Both the viruses can spread very quickly among poultry.

While Avian influenza A viruses have been found in more than 100 species of wild birds worldwide, chickens, turkeys, ducks and other domesticated birds can get infected through contact with infected wild birds or other infected poultry, as well as surface contamination.  

Bird flu in humans

File Photo | AP

Infected birds shed virus in their saliva, faeces and mucous. Human infections, though not common, happen when a sufficient quantity of bird flu virus enters a person’s nose, eyes or mouth, or through inhalation.According to the existing scientific information, human to human spread of bird flu is very rare. However, experts caution that a mutated strain of bird flu can prove to be easily transmittable. That’s why careful monitoring and handling of any infection in humans is crucial.

Given the havoc caused by COVID-19, the danger that one of the variants of the bird flu can trigger a pandemic can no longer be ignored.

With inputs from TNN

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by Kashmir Today staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)