Synopsis: Avian influenza must be stopped before continuous spread amongst humans.
Influenza type A viruses cause Bird flu, a highly contagious viral disease. Normally birds are carriers of this virus, takes it across the continent, though unaffected themselves, affect a large population of other birds.
These viruses mainly affect poultry birds such as chickens and turkeys. Although rare, this virus sometimes also affects mammals such as pigs, horses, cats, and dogs.
H5N8 and H5N1 are subtypes of avian influenza Virus:
- H5N8 has been found in crows in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.
- H5N1 strains have been found in ducks in Kerala and migratory birds in Himachal.
The highly pathogenic avian influenza subtypes named as H5N1 and H5N8, have been reported in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, and Kerala.
- Death count of poultry birds in Haryana is in thousands followed by Jharkhand and Gujarat. The cause of death in these three States is still unidentified.
- Crows in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, migratory birds in Himachal Pradesh, and poultry in Kerala have been targeted by the two subtypes of the virus.
- Tests have confirmed H5N1 is responsible for the deaths of over 2,000 migratory birds in Himachal Pradesh.
- H5N8 has been recognized as the cause of deaths of thousands of poultry in Kerala, and hundreds of crows in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.
What is the origin of the spread of the virus and its causes?
A European Food Safety Authority report revealed that 561 avian influenza discoveries were made between August-December in 15 European countries and the U.K.
- H5N1 and H5N8 were two of three subtypes found in Europe, these were mainly found in wild birds along with a few poultry and captive birds.
- Migratory birds have been largely responsible for spread of the virus into India during winter. It spreads further through movement of local residential birds and poultry.
- Genetic analysis suggested that a tenacious transmission of this virus strain is coming from wild birds in Asia to west-central Europe.
- Movement of men and material from poultry farms has also been a cause for the further blowout.
What is being done to stop the spread?
- Firstly, more than 69,000 birds which included ducks and chickens were culled in Alappuzha and Kottayam in accordance with India’s 2015 national avian influenza plan, in an attempt to stop the spread.
- Secondly, all the states have been asked to be watchful of any unusual deaths or disease outbreak signs amongst birds, particularly migratory ones as they are considered to be one of the causes of the spread.
- Thirdly, states have been asked to disinfect and dispose of the dead birds properly, biosecurity of poultry farms needs to be strengthened.
- It is very rare that avian influenza viruses cross the species barrier and directly infect humans but mutations in the virus can create a new avian influenza virus which can result in continuous transmission between humans, leading to genesis of pandemic influenza.
- Hence, it is suggested to carry out genome sequencing of virus samples to track the evolution of the virus.