Avian influenza, more commonly known as bird flu, is a rare but potentially deadly viral infection found in humans. While naturally found in wild birds, it is often transmitted to domesticated poultry from them and certain strains of the bird flu get transmitted to humans as well. More virulent strains of the avian influenza type A virus, like H5N1 and H7N9, have not only spread from birds to humans but also caused major outbreaks of bird flu in Asian countries. 

(Read more: World’s deadliest viral infections)

The bird flu, like most viral infections that primarily affect the respiratory tract, causes flu-like symptoms such as fever, shortness of breath, cough, sore throat, headaches, muscle pain, diarrhoea and nausea. There is currently no vaccine for bird flu. Human cases of bird flu are treated with antiviral drugs like tamiflu, oseltamivir, peramivir and zanamivir. However, strains of bird flu which are resistant to antiviral medications are also emerging, especially in Asian countries, which makes treating bird flu more difficult.

(Read more: First aid for viral fever)

  1. First outbreaks of bird flu in humans
  2. First outbreak of bird flu in India in 2005
  3. Subsequent sporadic outbreaks of bird flu
  4. 2021 outbreak of bird flu
Doctors for Bird flu outbreaks in India from 2005-2021

The first outbreak of bird flu in the world originated in China in 1996 where the H5N1 virus was detected in geese. In 1997, the first cases of this strain of bird flu in humans were reported in Hong Kong. Since then, sporadic outbreaks of bird flu in humans have been reported from across the world. 

(Read more: What is viral shedding)

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that since 2003, more widespread outbreaks of bird flu have been reported from Asia, Africa, Europe and the Middle East. The agency also says that the H5N1 strain of bird flu is considered to be endemic to six countries: 

  • Bangladesh
  • China
  • Egypt
  • India
  • Indonesia
  • Vietnam

(Read more: Steps India should take now to prevent future epidemic outbreaks)

It must be noted that bird flu cases in humans have not been reported in India until now and no mortalities in the country have been linked to the disease either. The first and second outbreaks of bird flu in India occurred in 2005-06, which were concurrent with outbreaks in China, Nigeria, Middle Eastern countries and Europe. Flocks of poultry were found to be infected with the H5N1 virus in Maharashtra’s Navapur. Cases of H5N1 in birds were also reported in Gujarat. After this, bordering states like Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Goa and even states like Tamil Nadu and Jammu and Kashmir introduced poultry restrictions. 

Poultry culling operations were introduced - resulting in the culling of 10.44 lakh birds - in Maharashtra and Gujarat. These outbreaks were declared to be over in August 2006.

The third outbreak occurred in Manipur in July 2007, where 3.39 lakh birds were culled. This outbreak ended in November 2007. The fourth outbreak took place in West Bengal in 2008, where 15 districts were affected and led to the culling of 42.62 lakh birds in the state. The year 2008 also witnessed bird flu outbreaks in Tripura, where 19 lakh birds were culled, and Assam, where 5.09 lakh birds were culled. Another outbreak in West Bengal’s Malda district was witnessed in December 2008. 

In 2009, Sikkim reported bird flu cases and 4,000 birds were culled in the small state. The year 2010 saw a reemergence of bird flu in West Bengal, where 1.56 lakh birds were culled and 0.18 lakh eggs were disposed of. In 2011, outbreaks of bird flu were reported in West Bengal, Tripura and Assam again. Small outbreaks of bird flu occurred in Odisha, Meghalaya, Tripura and Karnataka in 2012. 2013-14 witnessed outbreaks in Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Kerala and Chandigarh. In 2015, there were outbreaks reported in Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, Telangana and Manipur. Outbreaks were also reported in Kerala in 2016 and 2020.

(Read more: Public health pandemic plan)

In the last few weeks of December 2020 and in January 2021, outbreaks of the bird flu were reported in several states of India once again. The government of India issued a bird flu alert after Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana and Gujarat reported deaths of birds due to either H5N1 strain or the H5N8 strain of bird flu. H5N8 is considered to be less pathogenic than H5N1, but since states are reporting cases of both strains in the country, bird culling drives have begun. 

Authorities in Kerala, for example, have reportedly culled 24,000 birds, mostly ducks. Authorities in states like Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Karnataka, Jammu and Kashmir have also reportedly stepped up the monitoring of poultry in case outbreaks emerge in these states too. No cases of bird flu in humans have been reported in 2021 as yet. 

[This is a developing situation. Please check this section again for more updates about the 2021 bird flu outbreaks in India.]

Dr. Arun R

Dr. Arun R

Infectious Disease
5 Years of Experience

Dr. Neha Gupta

Dr. Neha Gupta

Infectious Disease
16 Years of Experience

Dr. Lalit Shishara

Dr. Lalit Shishara

Infectious Disease
8 Years of Experience

Dr. Alok Mishra

Dr. Alok Mishra

Infectious Disease
5 Years of Experience

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