What is Bird Flu: Avian influenza or bird flu is an infection caused by avian (bird) influenza (flu) viruses. Wild birds worldwide carry these influenza viruses in their intestines, but usually do not get sick from them. However, avian influenza is very contagious among birds and can make some domesticated birds, including chickens, ducks, and turkeys, very sick and kill them.

A particular strain of the virus, Influenza A (H5N1), has become common among birds in Asia, who shed the virus in their saliva, nasal secretions and faeces. More than 90 per cent of birds who get H5N1 die, and mortality among humans is also high. Cases of bird flu in humans have been happening sporadically since the late 1990s. Most of these cases have resulted from people having direct or close contact with H5N1-infected poultry or H5N1-contaminated surfaces. Currently, it does not pose a major threat as it cannot pass easily from one human to another. Nonetheless, because all influenza viruses have the ability to change, scientists are concerned that H5N1 virus one day could be able to infect humans and spread easily from one person to another. Because these viruses do not commonly infect humans, there is little or no immune protection against them in the human population. If H5N1 virus were to gain the capacity to spread easily from person to person, an influenza pandemic (worldwide outbreak of disease) could begin.

Symptoms: Symptoms of avian influenza in humans have ranged from typical human influenza-like symptoms (e.g., fever, cough, sore throat, and muscle aches) to headache, chest pain, eye infections, pneumonia, severe respiratory diseases (such as acute respiratory distress), and other severe and life-threatening complications.

Precautions: Currently, there is no scientific evidence that people have been infected with bird flu by eating safely handled and properly cooked chicken or eggs. Even if chicken and eggs were to be contaminated with the virus, proper cooking would kill it. In fact, recent studies have shown that the cooking methods that are already recommended by the USDA and the FDA for chicken and eggs to prevent other infections will destroy influenza viruses as well. Some of the precautions which people should take to avoid bird flu are as follows:

1) Buying only healthy and alive chickens with smooth furs through out its body.

2) Washing hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling raw chicken and eggs.

3) Cleaning cutting boards and other utensils with soap and hot water to keep raw poultry from contaminating other foods.

4) Cooking chicken to a temperature of at least 74 degrees Celsius.

5) Cooking eggs until whites and yolks are firm.

Control: Most H5N1 viruses that have caused human illness and death appear to be resistant to amantadine and rimantadine, two antiviral medications commonly used for treatment of patients with influenza. Two other antiviral medications, oseltamivir and zanamivir, would probably work to treat influenza caused by H5N1 virus, but additional studies are needed to demonstrate their current and ongoing effectiveness. However, On April 17, 2007, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced its approval of the first vaccine to prevent human infection with one strain of the avian influenza (bird flu) H5N1 virus. The vaccine, produced by sanofi pasteur, Inc., has been purchased by the federal government for the U.S. Strategic National Stockpile; it will be distributed by public-health officials if needed. ICAR, India's top agricultural research organization, developed a vaccine against bird flu indigenously in a record four months in its High Security Animal Disease Laboratory, in Bhopal, which is the only lab in India to conduct tests for the H5N1 variant of avian influenza. This vaccine is for birds, not humans. Indian government needs to improve its infrastructure for disease surveillance and reporting system based on the lines of FoodNet of USA’s CDC. There should be proper implementation of safe handling practices for poultry growers and sellers to prevent selling of infected birds to the consumers.