Bird Flu in India: WHO’s Golden Rules, Symptoms, Causes, Prevention

Bird Flu

Bird flu, also known as avian influenza, is a viral infection that primarily affects birds but can also infect humans and other animals. The H5N1 strain is the most common and dangerous type, causing severe illness and death in birds and easily spreading to humans and other animals. According to the World Health Organization, H5N1 has a high mortality rate in humans, with nearly 60 per cent of those infected dying since its first appearance in 1997. Although human-to-human transmission is rare, experts worry about its potential to cause a pandemic.

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What are Bird Flu Symptoms?

If you contract bird flu, you may experience typical flu-like symptoms, such as:

  • Cough
  • Diarrhea
  • Respiratory difficulties
  • Fever (over 100.4°F or 38°C)
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Malaise
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat

If exposed to bird flu, notify healthcare staff before arriving at a medical facility to allow them to take necessary precautions.


Causes of Bird Flu: Spread, Contagion, and Risk Factors

Bird flu, particularly the H5N1 strain, was first identified in humans in Hong Kong in 1997. The outbreak was linked to handling infected poultry. H5N1 naturally occurs in wild waterfowl but spreads easily to domestic poultry. Humans contract the virus through contact with infected bird feces, nasal secretions, or secretions from the mouth or eyes. Eating properly cooked poultry or eggs from infected birds does not transmit bird flu, but eggs should be cooked thoroughly. 


Bird flu, also known as avian influenza, can spread to humans through contact with an infected animal’s body fluids. This includes saliva, respiratory droplets, and feces. You can inhale small dust particles from animal habitats or get the virus into your eyes, nose, or mouth after touching contaminated body fluids.

However, you don’t get bird flu from eating properly cooked poultry or eggs. Any flocks identified with the avian flu virus are promptly removed from the human food supply to ensure safety.

Is Bird Flu Contagious?

Bird flu is rarely spread from person to person. While there have been a few cases of human-to-human transmission, none have occurred in the U.S. Almost all human infections have resulted from direct contact with infected animals.

Risk Factors for Bird Flu

  1. Poultry Workers: People who work with poultry are at the highest risk.
  2. Waterfowl Handlers: Those working with ducks or geese are also at significant risk.
  3. Livestock Workers: Individuals working with livestock may be at risk.
  4. Infected Animal Contact: Direct contact with infected animals increases risk.
  5. Animal Habitats: Exposure to contaminated animal habitats can lead to infection.
  6. Environmental Dust: Inhaling dust particles from infected environments poses a risk.
  7. Surface Contamination: Touching surfaces contaminated with body fluids of infected animals can spread the virus.
  8. Preventive Measures: Practicing good hygiene and wearing protective gear can reduce risk.



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Risk Factors for Bird Flu

H5N1 can survive for extended periods, and infected birds can release the virus in faeces and saliva for up to 10 days. Risk factors for contracting H5N1 include:

  • Being a poultry farmer
  • Travelling to affected areas
  • Exposure to infected birds
  • Eating undercooked poultry or eggs
  • Being a healthcare worker caring for infected patients
  • Living with an infected person



Diagnosing Bird Flu

The CDC has approved a test called influenza A/H5 (Asian lineage) virus real-time RT-PCR primer and probe set, which can provide preliminary results in four hours. However, this test is not widely available. Other diagnostic methods include auscultation (to detect abnormal breath sounds), white blood cell differential, nasopharyngeal culture, and chest X-ray. Additional tests may assess heart, kidney, and liver function.


Bird Flu (H5N1) Summary Details
First human infection 1997 in Hong Kong
Natural occurrence Wild waterfowl
Spread to humans Contact with infected bird feces, nasal secretions, or secretions from the mouth or eyes
Safe consumption Properly cooked poultry (internal temperature of 165ºF/73.9ºC); eggs should not be runny


Treatment for Bird Flu

Treatment for bird flu varies depending on the strain and symptoms. Antiviral medications like oseltamivir (Tamiflu) or zanamivir (Relenza) can reduce the severity of the disease if taken within 48 hours of symptom onset. However, the virus can develop resistance to common antivirals like amantadine and rimantadine (Flumadine), making them ineffective. Close contacts of infected individuals may also be prescribed antivirals as a preventive measure. Severe cases may require hospitalization and use of a breathing machine.



Tests to Diagnose Bird Flu

auscultation (a test that detects abnormal breath sounds)

white blood cell differential

nasopharyngeal culture


chest X-ray


Preventing Bird Flu

Preventing bird flu involves several measures. Doctors may recommend getting a flu shot to prevent co-infection with human influenza, which could lead to a new, more dangerous flu strain. The CDC advises travelers to avoid open-air markets, contact with infected birds, and undercooked poultry. Good hygiene practices, including regular handwashing, are essential. The FDA has approved a vaccine for avian flu, but it is not yet publicly available and is reserved for potential future outbreaks.

  • open-air markets
  • contact with infected birds
  • undercooked poultry



Outlook for Bird Flu Patients

The prognosis for bird flu varies based on the strain and severity of the infection. H5N1 has a high mortality rate and can lead to complications such as sepsis, pneumonia, organ failure, and acute respiratory distress. Prompt medical attention is crucial if you develop flu symptoms within 10 days of handling birds or visiting areas with known outbreaks.

Some potential complications are:

  • sepsis (a possibly fatal inflammatory response to bacteria and other germs)
  • pneumonia
  • organ failure
  • acute respiratory distress


Ensuring Food Safety: WHO’s Golden Rules for consuming cooked food

To prevent bird flu through food, follow the World Health Organization’s guidelines for consuming cooked food. A balanced diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats, supports good health and boosts immunity. Proper nutrition also enhances mental health, energy levels, and cognitive function. Hydration and moderation in food intake are equally important for maintaining a healthy weight and overall well-being.


Here are five short points to prevent bird flu through food:

  • Follow WHO Guidelines: Consume properly cooked food to avoid bird flu.
  • Balanced Diet: Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats.
  • Boost Immunity: Proper nutrition supports overall health and strengthens the immune system.
  • Stay Hydrated: Drink enough water daily for optimal health.
  • Moderation: Maintain a healthy weight by moderating food intake.



Bird flu remains a significant health concern due to its high mortality rate and potential to cause a pandemic. Understanding the symptoms, causes, risk factors, diagnosis, and treatment options can help manage and prevent the spread of this dangerous virus. Practicing good hygiene, ensuring food safety, and staying informed about health guidelines are essential steps in protecting yourself and others from bird flu.

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