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Dissecting Bird flu

by Rinku Khumukcham
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By: Sauro Dasgupta, UG 3, Department of International Relations
Jadavpur University, Kolkata
As the bird flu continues to spread in India despite damage control on the part of the government, we must remember that bird flu, also called avian influenza, is a viral infection that can infect not only birds, but also humans and other animals. Most forms of the virus are restricted to birds. H5N1 was the first avian influenza virus to infect humans. The first infection occurred in Hong Kong in 1997.
H5N1 is the most common form of bird flu. It affects humans and other animals that come in contact with a carrier. H5N1 was first discovered in humans in 1997. It is not a communicable infection. However, the risk of H5N1 becoming a pandemic threat to humans cannot be totally ruled out.
H5N1 infection has typical flu-like symptoms. A few for example may be fever, respiratory difficulties, cough, sore throat etc.
H5N1 occurs naturally in wild waterfowl, but it can spread easily to domestic poultry. The disease is transmitted to humans through contact with infected bird faeces, nasal secretions, or secretions from the mouth or eyes.
H5N1 has the ability to survive for extended periods of time. Birds infected with H5N1 continue to release the virus in faeces and salivary secretions. Touching contaminated surfaces can spread the infection.
RT-PCR primer and probe set are employed to identify the virus and an idea of the virus can be known. But there are also other medical methods to know whether the patient has been infected with the virus, like the blood counts are seen. X ray of the chest is an important diagnostic method. That apart, cell culture techniques and other medical methods are used for identification of the virus. Typical tests to ascertain the proper functioning of the heart, kidneys and liver should also be accounted for the proper diagnosis of the presence of the virus.
People are panicky and are refusing to buy chicken. This has caused the market to occur huge losses. Now if the chicken can be boiled so as to remove all traces of infection, it will become safe for consumption. Nevertheless, the panic is still among the masses who fear that consumption of chicken at this moment can be fatal. Unfortunately, the refusal to consume it is leading to malnutrition among many children. Chicken, being usually less expensive than vegetables, is easily affordable for the masses. With rising prices of vegetables due to the removal of potatoes, onions, etc. from the Essential Commodities Act has also wrecked havoc on the lives of the middle class families, who have to shell out more money for vegetables and fruits and pulses and cereals than they had to do before. Further, the pandemic induced lockdown forced many shops and mandis to shut down and the authorities did not allow trucks of vegetables to enter everywhere. With the rise of fuel prices, transportation became expensive. The shutdown of inventories and warehouses for the shortage of vegetables and fruits along with other essential food items made storage very difficult. Therefore, prices of vegetables increased substantially, making life very difficult for the masses.
Symptomatic features can easily be understood and quick proper care can be taken. But there are also reports where asymptomatic changes are shown. The affected individuals may be treated with antiviral medicines. It is preferred whoever has come in contact with the patient affected with the concerned virus should also be administered with the antiviral drug and the patient should be quarantined to avoid the spread of infection. If immediate action is not taken to override the viral load the patient may develop pneumonia and may from severe respiratory distress.
About the author: Sauro Dasgupta is pursuing his Bachelor’s degree in Political Science with a specialization in International Relations at Jadavpur University, Kolkata, India.  He can be contacted at [email protected]

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