BENGALURU: The recent avian flu scare -- starting on December 29, 2017, with just one case testing positive for avian influenza -- had triggered a citywide panic, courtesy social media. People, armed with mobiles loaded with social media platforms, went berserk to spread well-intended messages advising all and sundry to regard chicken as the villain out for your blood…and life.
However, on Friday, Animal husbandry minister A Manju declared that chicken was safe for human consumption as the reports of tests on samples sent to National Institute of High Security Animal Diseases (NIHSAD) in Bhopal have come ‘negative’ for any form of bird flu that is lethal to humans. Which means, there was fear, panic and hullabaloo over nothing.
Experts now say that before succumbing to fear, a crucial step required from the government and its qualified agencies is to let people know the precise nature of threat -- and whether there is a threat at all.
Explaining why panic was unnecessary, Dr V Ravi, head of department, Neurovirology, at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS), said people wouldn’t be infected just because birds are dying from it. “They have to be working with infected birds, handle a large amount of carcasses without protection and then they might be infected. Even globally, it has not caused a pandemic and only causes outbreaks in poultry workers who are the most exposed group,” he said.
Prolonged exposure to the avian influenza virus is necessary for humans to contract it, doctors say. The H5N8 virus, which was recently detected in the state, is a mutation of the earlier H5N1 and H7N7 viruses.
Dr Ravi, said: “One would have to ingest very large quantities of the virus to be infected. While normally the influenza virus has receptors (cells essential for infection) in the upper respiratory tract which includes the nose, upper throat and nasal mucosa, this virus has to attach to receptors found deep down in the alveoli of the lungs.” (The receptors are like the Trojan Horses in our body which welcome the virus to come in and attack the body.)
This would mean that a large amount of virus would have to be inhaled as it would have to clear all the natural protective barriers of the respiratory system to reach the alveoli and start an infection, he explained.
Stating that a situation where the virus spreads rapidly has never occurred in India, Ravi said state surveillance units were trained in rapid response and would generally sanitize an area of 10 kilometres around the focal point. “If there is a suspected human case -- which we never had -- then the patient is handled in a special ward while not exposing him/her to other patients. Such a situation has never occurred in India. Poultry workers who have been screened haven’t had any such symptoms,” he said.
“Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Chest Diseases (RGICD) is the place for treating any influenza. A special ward is available and a flu ward is also available where patients are kept and which is away from the main building, and isolated. In my experience, I have never seen such cases though,” Dr Ravi said.
Human deaths from bird flu: None
Cases affecting humans: None
WHY: The receptors for swine flu are located in the upper respiratory tract. That is why humans are more prone to contracting swine flu than bird flu for which the receptors are deep down in the lungs. This makes it extremely difficult for the virus to penetrate and affect humans.