Even as India continues to battle the coronavirus pandemic, at least four Indian states have confirmed the presence of another deadly virus. The Avian influenza, commonly known as bird flu, is killing thousands of crows, ducks, poultry and herons across the country.
On Jan. 5, more than 1800 migratory birds, mainly bar-headed geese, found dead in a lake sanctuary in the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh in December tested positive for the bird flu. The death toll at this lake, a common site for migratory birds during the winter season, is now 2400.
Bird flu is a highly infectious and severe respiratory disease that occurs in birds. It is caused by the H5N1 influenza virus. There are at least 861 known cases of human infection between 2003 and 2019, but the World Health Organisation maintains that human-to-human transmission remains rare. Its symptoms are similar to COVID-19 and include cough, fever, sore throat, muscle aches, shortness of breath and headache. Experts conclude that if an infected chicken or egg is cooked properly, there is low risk of transmission to humans.
In the northern Indian state of Rajasthan, hundreds of crows began dropping dead from Dec. 25 onwards. The panic around these dead birds prompted forest officials to test their samples, only to confirm the re-emergence of the avian influenza. Peacocks, pigeons and poultry birds across the state also succumbed to bird flu.
In the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, the bird flu virus was confirmed after testing the samples of 50 crows found dead in the last week of December in the city of Indore. The state’s animal husbandry department has called for strict surveillance within the 1 km area.
Meanwhile, two districts in the southern Indian state of Kerala were put on high alert after bird flu killed more than 12,000 ducks. Officials have sounded a statewide alert, and announced that more than 35,000 birds in the state would be culled to keep the H5N8 virus in check.
In the northern Indian state of Haryana, 150,000 chickens across various poultry farms died mysteriously, and authorities have now sent their samples to get tested.
India’s most severe outbreak of the bird flu was in 2008, when millions of poultry were culled to contain the virus.
In November last year, Belgium and the U.K. reported bird flu outbreaks at a poultry farm and turkey farm respectively.
In December 2020, a Japanese poultry farm first reported cases of the bird flu, prompting authorities to cull 134,000 chickens across various farms.