H5N1 Bird Flu Spreading Like Fire: Will Bird Flu Be The Next Human Pandemic?

Earlier this February, the World Health Organisation head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, warned that the world had to prepare for a possible bird-flu pandemic.

The year 2019 saw the emergence of the deadliest virus -- SARS-CoV-2 causing COVID-19. The infection attacks the respiratory system of the body, leaving it suffering from severe breathing difficulties and sometimes, even multiple-organ failure. It took the world over two years to bring the situation under control. The outbreak was so massive that the World Health Organisation (WHO) termed it a 'pandemic'. But now, standing in 2023, we all wanted to live a pandemic-free life. But, is that even possible?

In its recent warnings, the global health body has notified that the H5N1 bird flu variant is spreading rapidly and has the ability to not only infect birds, but also humans. Let's know more about this.

Will Bird Flu Drive The Next Pandemic?

Avian influenza, also known as bird flu has already claimed the lives of over 15 million domestic birds and led to the culling of an unprecedented 193 million more since October 2021. Experts have warned that the virus is no longer restricted to birds. In the United States, the list of wild mammals killed by bird or avian influenza is growing.

Looking at the current trend of bird flu and its ability to evade the human immune system, one question that is lingering in everyone's mind is, could bird flu, or avian influenza, evolve from an ecological disaster to a full-blown pandemic? After COVID-19, will bird flu be the next virus to kill millions of lives?

TheHealthSite.com spoke to Dr. Anamika Dubey, Senior Consultant, General Pediatrician, Madhukar Rainbow Children's Hospital, Malviya Nagar.

Bird Flu: All That You Need To Know

Bird flu is an air-borne infection caused by strains of the influenza virus that primarily infect birds. How does it transmit to humans? As per experts, a bird flu infection can spread to humans when a fit individual comes in contact with sick birds. Human-to-human transmission is also possible. The virus responsible for severe human infections has been identified as H7N9 and H5N1.

The symptoms associated with this type of infection can look like common flu, such as fever, body aches, sore throat, and cough. Bird flu infection is usually diagnosed by collecting a swab from the upper respiratory tract of the sick person.

In the United States, there are repeated outbreaks of H5N1 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.

How To Stay Safe From Catching Bird Flu?

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 feces. One of the most important things to keep in mind in order to stay safe from catching the infection is hand hygiene. Washing hands frequently with soap and water is highly recommended. Good food safety practices should be followed. There is no evidence to suggest that influenza 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 the avian influenza virus by consumption of eggs or egg products. However, eggs collected from areas with outbreaks of bird flu or avian influenza should not be consumed raw or partially cooked. Make sure to wash them and cook them well before eating.

Although bird flu viruses mainly infect and spread among wild migratory water birds and domestic poultry, some bird flu viruses can infect and spread to other animals as well. While it is unlikely that people would become infected with bird flu viruses through contact with an infected wild, stray, or domestic animal, it is possible especially if there is prolonged and unprotected exposure to an infected animal.

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