Reports of lakhs of birds dying of Avian Influenza, or bird flu, over the last few days have sent panic waves across the country fighting hard to contain the coronavirus pandemic.
Its confirmation in nine states, and reports of likely spread in others, has made people question if the virus can be transferred from birds to humans, with sale of bird meat and eggs taking a hit.
No, say the central government and experts from the World Health Organisation (WHO), but highlight that animal-to-human infection likely if we are not careful.
In a recent statement, the centre informed that the Avian Influenza was zoonotic – one that spreads from birds or animals to humans – has recurred in India since 2006, but “infection in humans is not yet reported in the country”.
The government added that there is “no direct evidence” that bird flu can be transmitted to humans through the consumption of contaminated poultry products.
Even animal husbandry minister Giriraj Singh tweeted urging people to “fully cook eggs and meat” to kill the heat-sensitive virus as poultry sales took a hit across states.
Experts suggest cooking eggs till the yolk and white are firm, and the meat is cooked all the way through, or not pink in the center.
There are also concerns over the virus mutating and infecting humans through close contact or extended exposure, just like the novel coronavirus infected some zoo and pet animals in various countries.
The centre has allayed these fears saying that “in India, the disease spreads mainly by migratory birds coming during winter months”, but added that “secondary spread (from infected birds) by human handling (through fomites) cannot be ruled out”.
This puts butchers, officials testing samples, collecting dead birds and involved in culling at risk as the virus spreads through saliva, blood and faeces.
While the government has mandating use of protective gear for all officials, experts say that even if a human gets infected, the chances of human-to-human transfer of the virus are low.
To check its spread even among birds, affected states have temporarily closed poultry markets, started culling infected birds, banned import of live birds and created “bio-bubbles” around zoos and sanctuaries.