India has confirmed the spread of Bird Flu or avian influenza in 10 states and Union Territories as of Monday. As per reports, hundreds of birds were found dead all across the country.
It is a cause of concern as we are still in the Coronavirus outbreak grip, and Bird Flu is also transferable to humans if proper precautions are not taken. However, no such case of Human transmission has been reported so far.
Many cases of human transmission of infections with the avian flu virus have been occurring since 1997.
While the outbreak of Avian Influenza in earlier years was restricted to poultry, this time, the outbreak of Avian Influenza has spread to the country’s forest areas.
Pong Dam in Himachal Pradesh reported the first case of avian influenza; it has been confirmed that bird flu has spread to the forests and protected areas in Gujrat, Kerala, including Himachal Pradesh.
The spread to the forests is particularly worrying since it has the capacity to spread to endangered species, which will question their very existence.
The cases so far have been found in migratory duck species in forest wetlands. In contrast, it has been known that most migratory waterfowl species are carriers of the bird flu. Still, it has been reported that another species which is known to be more rugged – the red junglefowl have also contracted the disease, which has come as a surprise to the many related in the field.
These viruses are natural to the birds, the virus is carried in the intestines of wild birds worldwide, but they usually do not get sick from them.
While avian influenza does not usually jump to humans, however, sporadic human infections with bird flu have occurred.
Bird flu has the potential to be easily transferred from migratory birds to domestic birds and has the capacity to destroy poultry, including pigs.
The control of the outbreak is particularly hard since it is not possible to catch migratory birds and vaccinate them. However, the wetlands and other wintering grounds will have to be monitored; precautions will be needed to make sure that species like vultures do not contract the disease since susceptive birds become infected when they have contact with contaminated excretions or surfaces that are contaminated with excretions and vultures can spread the disease since they feed on dead birds and animals.
Similar to any virus, mutations in avian influenza are highly likely. It also evolves extremely fast; if taken lightly, it can spread to our forests and endanger all species. Infected birds shed flu virus in their saliva, nasal secretions, and feces.
Particular responsibility and precautions need to be administered in all Zoos, water bodies, and poultry farms.
Bird Flu in states and precautions
So far, ten states have reported the outbreak of avian influenza – Delhi, Uttarakhand, Maharashtra, Kerala, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Gujrat, and Uttar Pradesh.
The states have resorted to measures including mass culling of poultry, restrictions on chicken and related foods, and a ban on markets with live birds to control the outbreak.
However, the centre has directed for nonclosure of mandis and not impeding the sales of poultry products.
The centre has also directed that adequate stocks of PPE kits and other necessary accessories are maintained for any culling operations that may be needed.
The spread in Humans and most cases occur when humans contact infected poultry or contaminated surfaces; however, no cases have been reported of human – to – human transmission so far.
How safe is it to consume poultry and poultry products?
Giriraj Singh, Animal Husbandry and Dairying Minister, said there had been no scientific reports of any transmission of bird flu to humans and consumers.
However, the Delhi government has imposed a ban on sales of processed and packaged foods brought from outside the capital.
As per the guidelines, poultry and poultry products can be prepared and consumed as usual if cooked at temperatures of or higher than 70 degrees Celcius for at least 30 minutes.
Why is it concerning if the flu reaches our forests?
We depend on forests for our survival; the air is the most critical aspect of human survival, and the source of the same is our forests. Forests are also essential to mitigate climate change.
Animals of all kinds play a crucial ecological role; they help in the pollination of all plants, seeds are disbursed through birds, fruit bats, primates, and a variety of terrestrial mammals.
Carnivorous animals have an indirect role to play but significant enough as they affect other animals’ behaviors.
Each species plays an indispensable role in the complex yet simple ecosystem; the loss or reduction in any species directly or indirectly impacts the ecosystem.
If the bird flu escapes the poultries and finds itself in the forests, it would potentially destroy the roles played by each of the species.
Forest covers have been shrinking rapidly because of mass deforestation and an explosion in the human population. The animals living in these forests have had a long-standing battle with humans. Humans have encroached their space with increased human activities in these forests.
Many of the species are already extinct, on the verge of being extinct, and almost 85% of the species in the forests have been included in the endangered species list.
The outbreak of bird flu and its reports in our forests also means that all species, whether they are birds or animals, are susceptible to the flu infection, which could lead to mass deaths of already reducing numbers.
The impact of the same though not considered and understood by the general population is enormous. Humans are on top of the food chain, but our survivability depends on this fragile ecosystem; if this ecosystem does not exist, we too will perish.
What is the method of controlling the spread?
So far, the only resort to curb the spread is by culling. Any infected poultry is culled such that it limits the spread. However, while this may be a feasible and practical approach towards poultry, it is not a viable and practical approach when it comes to wild animals and birds.
Hence, in conclusion, one can only stress the importance of saving our ecosystem and prevent further climate change, for any further interference could be a question of our very existence.