The much-feared avian-flue. So far detected in 27 countries, have reached India. More than 100,000 chickens have died mysteriously throughout a week in Nawapur taluka of Maharashtra’s Nandurbar district. Tests on dead birds sent to Bhopal’s animal diseases laboratory have revealed the presence of the highly contagious H5NI virus. The World Health Organisation has said that since 2003, H5NI has been reported in 170 people and 92 have died, though the virus remains largely a bird disease. Scientists fear that H5NI may exchange genes with human viruses, gain the ability to move from person to person through coughs and sneezes, and trigger a new influenza pandemic. Most human cases of H5NI so far have involved only people who have had long, close contact with live, diseased poultry. Animal husbandry officials said the route of entry of H5NI into Indian poultry is unclear. The West Bengal government has issued a state-wide alert, saying the local animal husbandry officer should be informed if any bird, domestic and wild, or livestock behaves abnormally or shows signs of sickness..
H5NI spreads to humans by inhaling the vapours from mucus and droppings of infected birds. It can spread by the movement of live birds from farm to farm, through people wearing contaminated clothes, and through contaminated vehicles, equipment, feed, and cages. Infected humans will have a high fever, cold, running nose, and difficulty in breathing. Cooking at 70°C or above kills the virus, but refrigeration does not. Don’t eat raw or partially cooked eggs. The virus is sensitive to disinfectants like detergents, household bleach, and alcohol. Dead or culled birds are to be packed in plastic bags and buried. Area to be disinfected with lime and phenyl. Antiviral agents oseltamivir and zanamivir might not be useful if drug-resistant strains develop and the virus spreads from person to person. Currently, there is no effective vaccine for humans. The WHO has asked governments to stockpile vaccines well as antivirals. Takes more than six months to produce a vaccine from eggs. Scientists are, therefore, looking at methods that don’t need eggs. Like reverse genetics where the deadly genetic component is removed from the virus before combining it with a weakened regular flu virus in the lab to make the vaccine.
The World Health Organisation has urged all countries to develop preparedness plans, but only around 40 have done so. WHO has further urged the countries with adequate resources to stockpile antiviral drugs nationally for use at the start of a pandemic like bird flu.