By Sampada A. Khatiwada Kathmandu, Jan. 16: Outbreak of the bird flu has been confirmed in India after many states reported unusual deaths of a large number of birds over the first week of January. The government of India has already issued an alert to all states warning the possibility of transmission of H5N8 subtype of the influenza A virus, commonly known as bird flu. As Nepal shares an open border with India, it currently is under threat of being hit by bird flu outbreak. Dr. Sher Bahadur Pun, coordinator of clinical research unit at Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital, Teku, said, “It is impossible to restrict movement of birds from India to Nepal due to the open border. Also, most importantly, Nepal has already recorded death from H5N1 strain of bird flu virus in 2019. Thus, considering the bird flu outbreak in India, we should begin preparations to opt for high alertness immediately.” “According to the World Health Organisation, if the bird flu is transmitted to humans, the death rate might well reach up to 60 per cent,” said Dr. Pun, adding, “As poultry farming has been on the rise in Nepal lately, it is vital to rapidly identify the possibility of bird flu outbreak and manage all the required equipment and technology for the treatment of the virus.” He added that if preventive measures weren’t taken on time, the growing poultry industry would have to bear severe consequences. Likewise, Dr. Rabindra Pandey, a public health expert, said, “If the government and concerned stakeholders do not pay attention in time to prevent the bird flu outbreak in Nepal, the poultry farming will be at stake.” Identification “Bird flu is suspected when a large number of deaths of poultry birds are recorded. The strains of bird flu can also transmit to humans, which is called avian influenza,” said Dr. Pandey. “The outbreak of bird flu can be ascertained in poultry birds if they show symptoms such as nasal discharge, shortness of breath, purple discolouration of wattles, combs and legs, decreased egg production and loss of appetite among others.” Likewise, the symptoms of avian influenza in humans are fever, cough, sore throat, muscle ache, loss of appetite, shortness of breath and nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhea and vomiting in some people, added Dr. Pandey. “If these symptoms are detected in a person coming from bird flu-infected area, then s/he should immediately be taken to the hospital,” he added. Dr. Pandey said that the transmission of bird flu can be contained by the measures that are used to prevent the novel coronavirus infection such as wearing masks, using sanitisers, social distancing, along with, not
touching dead birds or wild birds, sanitising poultry farms by using sanitisers with over 60 per cent alcohol concentration, maintaining cleanliness and hygiene while chopping and cooking chicken and cooking the meat in 70-165 degree Celsius. Stating that a hard and fast treatment of avian influenza did not exist, Dr. Pandey said, “Some antiviral medicines like oseltamivir or zanamivir would help in minimising the seriousness of the flu.” Stating that poultry industry of Nepal was becoming self-reliant in recent times, Shiva Ram KC, chairman of Nepal Egg Producers’ Association, said, “As bird-flu outbreak has already hit the poultry industry hard in some of the states in India, chances are high for the flu to enter Nepal. Thus, the government must opt for precautionary measures as soon as possible, otherwise our industries will have to bear a huge loss.” Meanwhile, Dr. Pun said that Nepal was not well-equipped to rapidly identify the outbreak of bird flu. “If the breakout is not identified quickly, many farmers will have to face difficulties. Also, history of people succumbing to avian influenza might also repeat.” The Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) test method being used to detect coronavirus can also be used to identify the bird flu virus. “Thus, giving continuity to RT-PCR test even after the end of the COVID-19 pandemic would come in handy in containing various emerging virus including bird flu,” he said.