Bird flu, also called avian influenza, is a viral infection that can infect not only birds, but also humans and other animals. Most forms of the virus are restricted to birds. H5N1 is the most common form of bird flu. After bird flu (avian influenza) was confirmed in Kerala, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, and Himachal Pradesh, a high alert has been sounded in Maharashtra. Several states, which have been reporting deaths of birds, including crows and migratory species, are scrambling to have samples tested for the virus.
As anxiety spreads, there is a fear of a fresh blow to the poultry industry — reports have been coming in of people giving up chicken and eggs, and of prices beginning to fall. Bird flu or avian influenza is the name used to describe a viral infection that is reported mostly in birds but has the potential to affect humans and other animals. The most common strain of the virus that causes severe respiratory disease in birds is H5N1; various other strains like H7, H8 too, cause infection. The virus was first detected in 1996 in geese in China. Asian H5N1 was first detected in humans in 1997 during a poultry outbreak in Hong Kong and has since been detected in poultry and wild birds in more than 50 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. Interestingly, Maharashtra which was the first state to report the infection has not seen an outbreak since 2006. Odisha, Tripura, and West Bengal are among the states that have reported repeated outbreaks of the infection in both domesticated and wild birds.
Different types of bird flu can cause different symptoms. As a result, treatments may vary. In most cases, treatment with antiviral medication such as oseltamivir (Tamiflu) or zanamivir (Relenza) can help reduce the severity of the disease.
India consumes 30 crore poultry birds and 900 crore eggs per month on average.
At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the poultry industry suffered a body blow after unsubstantiated rumours linked the spread of the disease with the consumption of chicken and eggs. Within a span of two months, the industry suffered losses of around $ 1 billion, as people kept away from eggs and poultry meat. While the industry has managed to get back on its feet, production remains low. In view of the bird flu outbreak, the Madhya Pradesh government has banned chicken trade with southern states for the next 10 days.
Madhya Pradesh has witnessed the death of a large number of crows in the last one week owing to bird flu strain H5N8. Last week more than 150 crows were found dead at the campus of the Daly College - a prestigious residential public school in Indore. Tests on the crows at the Bhopal based high-security animal disease laboratory (HSADL) suggested that the crows had died due to bird flu. The biggest concern for the government, which many feel will impact the economy before it impacts the health of the people is the effect on the poultry industry.