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A bird's eye view of the Bird Flu scare

It might not be the plague yet, but the bird or avian flu scare has acquired this nasty habit of sending a shiver down the spine. That birds have turned out to be man's greatest enemies in the 21st century is an irony worth noting. So what exactly are the origins of this disease// and what exactly should we be looking at to avoid becoming a victim of this deadly condition.

Bird flu basically is the viral flu that occurs in wild birds as well as domesticated ones including chickens, ducks, and turkeys. Normally, this condition is confined to the bird population and will not infect humans. But lately, these viruses have found a way into Homo sapiens and since 1997 have caused havoc in poultry animals and well as in humans. The viruses implicated in this disease are type A influenza viruses and so far out of the 16 H subtypes and 9 N subtypes, only four are known to be harmful to humans.

These are H1N1, H1N2, H3N2 and the deadliest of them all H5N1. It is this viral strain that has inspired fear among the world population since there is no known cure for it. Additionally, vaccines were also not available until it was announced that Tamiflu was effective against the disease. The fear is that the virus will mutate into a form that is easily transmissible to humans and if that happens experts have predicted a disaster in terms of human lives lost.

India and the bird flu :

As of this moment there have not been any cases reported in India. But the scenario could rapidly change if any bird is found to be infected. Given the population density in the country, it is to be expected that the bird flu would spread like wildfire. And the problem is compounded by the inadequate information as well as education that have so far been given to the millions of poultry traders in the country. These simple folk feel that no virus can survive the heat and temperature of Indian spices! And hence they are paying little heed to the warning s being issued rapidly elsewhere in the world. The Chinese connection is also not worrying these people since they feel that no virus, however deadly can cross the Himalayas! In such a scenario, the Government faces an unenviable task of constituting a team to handle any outbreak. Till now, random testing of bird samples has been the way the government has kept a watch on the developing situation. Salim Habayeb, the WHO's representative in India is satisfied with these methods, "In a large country like India, the state of the abattoirs varies from unhygienic to satisfactory standards, and from highly organized to informal." The main route for the entry of the virus in India appears to be from the migratory birds that come to the country in large numbers from China, Siberia and the Himalayan region. And the government has issued an alert against these birds and is hoping to test each one of them. The Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss has also indicated that they would stock up the vaccine. But given the tight-fistedness of the American company that owns the patent for the same, it remains to be seen how many vaccines actually end up here.

Bird flu then, is real and here to stay for sometime. And as the adage goes, prevention is indeed better than cure. If you find any sick bird, immediately contact the local veterinary officials and report the same. Also avoid going anywhere near birds that appear sick and lethargic. In conclusion, stay safe, stay healthy.

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