Several strains of avian influenza viruses have been bound around the world. The AI viruses have been circulating worldwide for centuries with four known major outbreaks recorded in the last century.
The first outbreak of avian influenza was reported in India in 2006. So far infection in humans has not yet been reported in India though the disease is zoonotic, capable of causing death among humans and others inflicting serious losses on poultry farmers. Government of India has said that there was no direct evidence hitherto that AI viruses can be transmitted to humans via the consumption of contaminated poultry products.
The Jammu and Kashmir administration has reacted with promptitude, banning import of poultry and unprocessed poultry meat till at least January 14 when the decision will be reviewed based on the evolving situation.
In India, the disease spreads mainly by migratory birds coming during winter months i.e. from September – October to February – March. The secondary spread by human handling x through fomites cannot be ruled out.
An action plan is needed to be formulated by Animal Husbandry to deal with avian influenza. It shall incorporate a clear protocol for preventive checks and testing, for reporting an outbreak, and removing farmed birds from an affected area.
An advisory has been issued though, asking the poultry farmers to improve bio-security measures in the farms and not allow any artificial ponds, small water bodies inside and around the farm premises which may attract wild birds which is a risk to the poultry.
While no infection has been reported in India, a virus strain known as H7N9 caused serious illness in people mostly in China, but not in birds. There is always a need to be alert. Reliance on a broad-based testing system for farmed birds and wet markets is a must to combat avian influenza. While precautionary measures have been taken by the administration which is a welcome development, the efficacy naturally depends on the alacrity with which the animal husbandry apparatus collects samples and advise the government and those related with the trade.
The focus should be to tighten the functioning of this machinery in view of the fact that there is a huge impact on people and agriculture. The farmers have an important responsibility to look out for sick birds and take measures as advised. The administration has so far also done well regarding public health messaging.