What is Bird Flu and Why are Birds being Culled?

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Bird flu was recently confirmed in Kerala, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, and Himachal Pradesh. High alert has been sounded in Maharashtra.

What is Bird flu?

  • Bird flu or avian influenza is the name used to describe a viral infection that is reported in birds, but has the potential to affect humans and other animals.
  • The most common strain of the virus that causes severe respiratory disease in birds is H5N1; various other strains like H7, H8 too, cause infection.
  • The virus was first reported in geese in China in 1996.
  • H5N1 infection in humans was reported in Hong Kong in 1997.

What is its transmission rate?

  • The H5N1 virus can jump species and infect humans from the infected bird.
  • The high mortality rate in humans — almost 60 per cent — is the main cause of concern.
  • In its present form, human-to-human infection is not known.
  • Human infections have been reported only among people who have handled infected birds or carcasses.
  • Between 2006 and December 31, 2018, India reported 225 epicenters of bird flu infection, which led to the culling of 83.49 lakh birds.

What is culling?

  • Mass slaughter of domestic poultry birds, such as chickens and ducks, to contain the spread of bird flu is called culling.
  • All domestic birds in an infected area, i.e., an area in which a case of bird flu has been detected, are slaughtered and their remains buried.
  • In India, culling is done in a radius one kilometre from the site of infection, which is called the ‘infected zone’.
  • All domestic birds present in commercial farms, backyard farms or live bird markets in the infected zone are culled.

How are the birds culled?

  • Bird are culled by wringing their necks, also known as cervical dislocation. This method results in death from cerabral anoxia due to cessation of breathing and/or blood supply to the brain.
  • But with the recent outbreak , the cullers will first administer an oral anaesthesia to birds weighing above three kilograms.
  • After culling, the bird carcasses are either burnt/incinerated or buried in deep pits which are then covered with layers of lime.

The virus dies immediately if exposed to temperatures over 70 degrees Celsius. Unlike in South East Asian countries, both meat and eggs in India are eaten well cooked, which sees them being exposed to over 100 degrees Celsius. Thus, the chances of humans contracting the virus from eating chicken and eggs is extremely rare.

The Poultry industry suffered losses of around $ 1 billion, as people kept away from eggs and meat. While the industry has managed to get back on its feet, production remains low.