No need to panic, say experts as India confirms the first bird flu death in humans

An 11-year-old boy from Gurugram, Haryana had died of the disease 10 days back, prompting the Centre to launch an epidemiological investigation in the case.

Published: 22nd July 2021 05:56 PM  |   Last Updated: 22nd July 2021 05:56 PM   |  A+A-

Forest department official picks a sick crow from a roadside near Jal Mahal in Jaipur, Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021. A bird flu alert has been sounded in Rajasthan after the presence of the dreaded virus was confirmed in dead crows and other birds in Rajasthan.

For representational purposes (File photo| PTI)

Express News Service

NEW DELHI: The first confirmed case of bird flu death in a human has been recorded in India but top virologists said that there is no need to panic as the human-to-human transmission of this flu is extremely unlikely.

An 11-year-old boy from Gurugram, Haryana had died of the disease 10 days back, prompting the Centre to launch an epidemiological investigation in the case. Diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia- a type of blood cancer- in June, the child had developed symptoms of fever, cough and breathing difficulty, soon after induction therapy for cancer. 

He was admitted to AIIMS, Delhi on July 2 and died 10 days later of multi-organ failure. It was after his death that the National Institute of Virology under the ICMR confirmed that he was suffering from bird flu, after which the National Centre for Disease Control which runs the Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme started the contact tracing.

The Union Health Ministry, on Wednesday, said that the team of doctors and nurses who had treated the child were being monitored since July 16 for the development of any influenza-like illness but no one has reported symptoms to date. Also, a 10 km area where the boy lived has been put under surveillance.

ALSO READ | Bird flu: Probe launched into death of Gurugram boy, close contacts under surveillance

Virus experts meanwhile pointed out that this is just one isolated case, possibly a very close contact with birds, possibly chicken or ducks.

“Bird flu does not spread well at all from human to human. And there is a biological reason for it,” said senior virologist Shahid Jameel who is also a director with the Trivedi School of Biosciences at the Ashoka University.

“So, I am not worried based on one case but let’s keep an eye out for more cases.”

Clinical scientist Gagandeep Kang said that while the particular cases have triggered some concern, it will be important to track and need to investigate where and how and if there are additional cases.

“But in general, bird flu does not spread from human to human without prolonged contact,” she said.

According to the World Health Organisation, almost all cases of H5N1 infection or bird flu in people have been associated with close contact with infected live or dead birds, or H5N1-contaminated environments.

Currently available epidemiologic information suggests the virus does not infect humans easily, and spread from person to person appears to be very rare.

However, when people do become infected, the mortality rate is very high at about 60%.


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