NEW DELHI: India has reported the first case of human death due to bird flu, the strain of influenza virus that primarily affects birds.
An 11-year-old boy, admitted to AIIMS on July 2, was confirmed dead due to bird flu on Tuesday. Contact tracing to identify people who might have been in close proximity with the boy is being undertaken.
Sources told TOI that the Haryana resident was admitted to AIIMS with high fever and cough on July 2. “We thought he had Covid-19,” said a hospital source. “But when the tests proved negative, further investigation established that the boy was suffering from an infection caused by the influenza virus of avian or bird origin.”
India has experienced multiple outbreaks of avian influenza in the last 15 years, mainly affecting poultry. However, there has been no known case of human death due to the disease. Not surprisingly, public health specialists are alarmed at the development.
Docs, family members in isolation
Sources said the National Centre for Disease Control — the country’s leading agency for controlling and mitigating pandemics — has been roped in for contact tracing of anyone who may have come in touch with the deceased boy. The doctors, nurses and healthcare workers involved in the boy’s treatment have been advised to isolate themselves and report symptoms such as sore throat, sneezing and runny nose.
Efforts are also being made to confirm the strain of the influenza virus. “There are many strains of the virus and while some may cause mild symptoms, others are lethal,” said an AIIMS doctor. “NCDC is trying to ascertain the strain of the influenza virus that led to the death.” The doctor added that bird flu was rare in humans but if it affects someone, the risk of death was very high. “Studies show the mortality rate of bird flu in humans is as high as 60%,” he said.
Bird flu can spread to humans through the droppings, saliva and secretion of the infected bird. Therefore, it is advisable to avoid contaminated surfaces. “The risk of bird flu spreading to humans is extremely rare, but we must take precautions. People involved in the handling poultry birds should clean and disinfect any suspected areas and wear protective gear such as gloves,” advised a doctor.
Public health experts added that people should be alert about birds dying in their localities. “Don’t venture near bird carcasses and immediately report any death to the authorities,” instructed an expert.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, US, bird flu viruses can infect people if enough of them got into a person’s eyes, nose or mouth or were inhaled. “This might happen when a virus is in the air (in droplets or possibly dust) and is inhaled or when people touch something having the virus and then touch their mouth, eyes or nose,” said CDC, adding that most bird flu infection in people resulted from unprotected contact with infected birds or contaminated surfaces.
Bird-flu illness in people, CDC said, can range from mild to severe. Signs and symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, fatigue, headaches, eye redness (or conjunctivitis) and difficulty in breathing.
As with seasonal flu, some people are at high risk of getting sick from bird flu, among them pregnant women, those with weakened immune systems and people 65 years and older. More than 700 human infections with highly pathogenic Asian avian influenza A (H5N1) viruses have been reported to WHO from 15 countries in Asia, Africa, the Pacific, Europe and the Near East since November 2003. Indonesia, Vietnam and Egypt have reported the highest number of human HPAI-Asian H5N1 cases to date, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.