Birds in parts of India have tested positive for bird flu – less than two months after the country was declared free of the disease.
The Business Standard reported on September 5 that the department of animal husbandry cleared India of avian influenza. It attributed this to the country’s having “adopted extensive control measures.”
Now, on October 25, the Indian Express reported that birds in Delhi, Kerala, and Madhya Pradesh had tested positive for avian flu caused by the H5N8 virus. Similar outbreaks were reported in 2014 in Germany and South Korea, among others. This is the first time H5N8 has presented in India.
A study last year concluded that the new H5N8 strain was “moderately pathogenic” among birds and could be spread through the respiratory tract. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) considers there to be only a minor risk of H5N8 being transmitted from birds to humans. A senior health ministry official told the Hindustan Times “we were given a written assurance [by the WHO] that the risk of humans getting infected was very low.”
Nevertheless, the central government have issued a health advisory to states on how to prevent an outbreak. Health Secretary C.K. Mishra suggested restricting contact between birds and humans. Mishra also said that those handling sick or dead birds should use protective equipment and be monitored afterwards. They should also be medicated with oseltamivir, an antiviral medicine recommended by the WHO, to prevent infection.
The official quoted in the Hindustan Times stated that “state governments…are monitoring people who came into direct contact with the infected birds. So far no one has shown any symptoms.” However, the official added that human testing would be carried out, “if need be.”