While we try to stay optimistic amid the COVID-19 pandemic — with a vaccine now in sight — a new health scare has us worrying. Avian flu, also known as bird flu, has created quite a stir and people have been wondering how dangerous it is, and what they can possibly do to stay safe. But while there’s an influx of rumours, Dr Kirti Sabnis, Infectious Disease Specialist, Fortis Hospitals, Mumbai answers some frequently asked questions for indianexpress.com.

Read on.

What is avian flu?

Avian influenza is the disease caused by infection with Avian (bird) Influenza (flu) Type A viruses. This is said to occur naturally among wild aquatic birds worldwide and can infect domestic poultry and other birds and animals, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), H5N8, H5N5 and H5N1, with H5N8 are the most commonly-reported flu viruses among birds.

Does it affect humans?

According to the CDC, Avian flu viruses do not normally infect human beings. Such an infection is rare, only sporadic cases have been reported since 2015, according to Mayo Clinic. If it does infect a person, infection is generally mild and can require ICU care in a few patients. It’s rare to have a human-to-human transmission of the same. Between 2003 and 2019, the WHO confirmed a total of 861 human cases of H5N1 worldwide, of which 455 deaths were recorded, although not from India.

What are the common symptoms?

* Cough
* Fever
* Sore throat
* Muscle aches
* Headache
* Shortness of breath

How can one contract the virus?

People can contract the bird flu virus by close contact with birds or bird droppings. Some people have caught the virus from cleaning or plucking infected birds. It is also possible people contract the virus while swimming or bathing in water contaminated with the droppings of infected birds.

Should one stop eating chicken and eggs?

Chicken and other poultry are safe to eat if cooked properly, according to a joint statement by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the WHO. No birds from flocks with the disease, however, should enter the food chain, the authorities said.

As per WHO, thorough cooking of poultry products at or above 70° Celsius is crucial. This ensures there is no active virus remaining if the live bird has been infected and has mistakenly entered the food chain. To date, there is no epidemiological evidence that people have become infected after eating contaminated poultry meat that has been properly cooked. All in all, in its paramount to maintain good hygiene practices and stay alert on the symptoms.

In conclusion, here are some WHO recommended good hygiene practices:

– No birds from flocks with the disease should enter the food chain.

– Do not eat raw poultry parts, including raw blood, or raw eggs in or from areas with outbreaks in poultry.

– Separate raw meat from cooked or ready-to-eat foods to avoid contamination. Do not use the same chopping board or the same knife. Do not handle both raw and cooked foods without washing your hands in between and do not place cooked meat back on the same plate or surface it was on prior to cooking. Do not use raw or soft-boiled eggs in food preparations that will not be heat-treated or cooked.

– Keep clean and wash your hands. After handling frozen or thawed raw poultry or eggs, wash your hands thoroughly with soap. Wash and disinfect all surfaces and utensils that have been in contact with the raw meat.

– Thorough cooking of poultry meat is necessary. Either ensure that the poultry meat reaches 70°C at the centre of the product, or that the meat is not pink in any part. Egg yolks should not be runny or liquid.

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