Bird Flu Outbreak: How Safe is Poultry Consumption?

   |  Updated: January 30, 2015 12:44 IST

Bird Flu Outbreak: How Safe is Poultry Consumption?

From Hong Kong to China and Japan to the Unites States, the Avian influenza - commonly known as bird flu - seems to be flying across continents affecting poultry and posing a severe threat to human wellness. In India, there have been cases of local poultry being affected by bird flu in the past three months. China has been battling with the virus since a couple of years now with the first few deaths reported in March 2013. Since then, the Chinese government has been undertaking culling operations to curb the virus from spreading any further. Controlling the disease in animals is what governments all across the globe are working towards and therefore mass culling is being frequently conducted in various parts of the world including countries like India, Japan and China.

According to the World Health Organisation, Avian Influenza is an infectious viral disease that commonly spreads among domestic poultry such as chicken, duck, turkey and geese. While most bird flu viruses do not infect humans, certain strains like A (H5N1) and A (H7N9), have caused serious infections in people. A few others like H5N2 and H5N8 have also been discovered in the recent past.

"The majority of human cases of A (H5N1) and A (H7N9) infection have been associated with direct or indirect contact with infected, live or dead poultry. Controlling the disease in animals is the first step in decreasing risks to humans," World Health Organisation.

To understand the spread of this virus and its severity, let's take you through a timeline spanning across the past year and some of the recent developments.


January 2014

The start of the year saw Taiwan monitoring hundreds of people for H7N9 strain. China reported deaths and Philippines banned poultry from China at the end of the first month. South Korea ordered for a lockdown on poultry farms while Hong Kong is known to have culled about 20,000 chickens.

April 2014

Japan confirmed its first bird flu (H5 virus) case after 2011.

June 2014

A team of researchers form the Free University of Brussels, the International Livestock Research Institute, Oxford University and the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention warned that another five countries may join China as targets for the H7N9 bird flu virus - the second bird virus alongside H5N1.

November 2014

A British duck farm reported outbreak of flu (H5N1 strain). A couple of deaths were reported in Egypt. The Dutch government ordered for culling 8,000 ducks and Germany reported its second infected case. In India Kerala identified the strain as H5N1 and carried out mass culling operation slaughtering close to 3 lakh ducks. Tamil Nadu Stops Poultry Inflow From Kerala to Prevent Bird Flu Spread

December onwards

Bird flu hits US; Hong Kong suspended imports from America as a couple of strains (H5N2) and 85N8 were confirmed by the US authorities. The government of Hong Kong began its culling operation on December 31st as the H7 virus was discovered. So far Italy and Libya are among other countries that have reported of infected cases and Japan has reported culling close to 90 Lakh chickens till date.

Chandigarh joined in when a sample of a duck found dead at the famous Sukhna Lake tested positive for H5N1. The geese and ducks were culled by the authorities and entry to the entire lake complex was banned by the district authorities on December 19. Taking heed from the scare, the Uttar Pradesh government immediately stopped the inflow of poultry from the adjoining states.

Last week, the virus was detected in a backyard poultry flock in southeast Washington after previously showing up in wild birds in the northwest part of the state. British Columbia officials say an avian influenza outbreak has spread to more than a half dozen poultry farms and affected about 245,000 birds.Taiwan to Cull 120,000 Chickens After Bird Flu Outbreak

Is there a reason to worry?

According to health experts, lack of information and knowledge about the virus is something that is adding to the scare. According to reports, the Government of Kerala has undertaken all possible measures to curb any further spread of virus. Poultry consumption, especially duck meat did see a drop for some time with prices of duck meat having dropped around Christmas in the affected areas. However, presently, the situation is quite stable.

According to the Central Poultry Department Organisation (Northern Region) Chandigarh, at present there is no cause to panic. The poultry in Chandigarh remains unaffected and safe for consumption. The government has taken all possible precautionary measures to check any spread of virus in birds.

"Out of six samples only one sample was tested positive. The area has been under strict monitoring and there is no cause of any alarm at present. The poultry, otherwise is fine, unaffected and everything is under control," said Dr. Vineet Kumar, Central Poultry Department Organisation, Chandigarh.

How safe is poultry consumption?

It is important understand that the virus spreads among poultry animals, especially birds. A person who is directly in contact with farm birds who are infected, stands prone to catch the virus. According to Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention, "The spread of avian influenza viruses from one ill person to another person has been reported very rarely, and has been limited, inefficient and unsustained. Most cases of avian influenza infection in humans have resulted from contact with infected poultry or surfaces contaminated with secretion/excretions from infected birds."

Dr. Sunil Sharma, General Physician and Head of Emergency, Madan Mohan Malviya Hospital in New Delhi says, "Bird flu is highly pathogenic, it can prove to be even more fatal than swine flu if it spreads in humans. However, no cases of human infection have been found till date and prevention is the best thing that can be done. One should be very careful while getting around farm animals or places where poultry is reared. "

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According to Dr. Sharma, the preliminary symptoms of flu is similar to any other flu, including running nose, body ache, headache, high fever, sore throat, etc. The symptoms worsen with time and a person may experience respiratory problems, with intense cough and flu settling in the lungs. The condition may get severely chronic wherein a person may start coughing blood and may also fall prey to multiple organ failure.

Various health organisations including WHO (World Health Organisation), FDA (Food and Drug Administration, United States) and AIIMS (All India Institute of Medical Science) support the fact that there is no evidence that the disease can be spread to people through properly cooked food. However, one needs to make sure that the meat is not raw, uncooked or partially cooked. According to guidelines provided by various health organisations, poultry should be cooked for at least half an hour at 70 degree C in order to ensure it to be safe for consumption.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention further recommend some tips that you should keep in mind while cooking meat and eggs -

  • Wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling raw poultry and eggs.

  • Clean cutting boards and other utensils with soap and hot water to keep raw poultry from contaminating other foods.

  • Use a food thermometer to make sure you cook poultry to a temperature of at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit Consumers may wish to cook poultry to a higher temperature for personal preference. Cook eggs until whites and yolks are firm.

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