Bird flu outbreak in India: Gravity, threat to humans and economic impact explained

11 Jan 2021

After Delhi and Maharashtra reported confirmed cases of bird flu, the number of states and Union Territories recording avian influenza outbreak has gone up to nine. The other states to report bird flu are Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Kerala. Haryana has reported maximum deaths of birds — over 4 lakh in past few weeks.

The central government has issued an alert to all states warning of the possibility of transmission to humans. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture has summoned officials of the animal husbandry department this afternoon over the bird flu outbreak in India.

How serious is this bird flu outbreak?

The bird flu outbreak became a worry in the first week of January after many states started reporting unusual deaths of large number of birds — wild, migratory and also poultry. The samples were tested and found to be a case of infection caused by Influenza Type-A virus, primarily H5N1, which is considered a Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) variant.

Other strains such as H7N1, H8N1 or H5N8 also cause bird flu and belong to the same HPAI category. While bird flu outbreak in Himachal Pradesh has been caused by H5N1, the samples from Kerala, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan have shown the presence of H5N8 variant.

Wild birds are considered the natural reservoirs of the bird flu viruses and it is typical of an outbreak to coincide with the season of arrival of migratory birds, which also take the virus to poultry. According to the early warning system of the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH), bird flu outbreaks were reported in several countries including Taiwan and Japan to a number of European countries and more than 48 lakh birds died or were culled in December 2020.