Nothing to panic: Human-to-human bird flu transmission rare, clarifies AIIMS chief Dr Guleria

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New Delhi: AIIMS chief Dr Randeep Guleria on Wednesday (July 21, 2021) said that human-to-human transmission of the H5N1 virus is very rare and there is no need to panic. The statement comes a day after the country reported its first confirmed death due to avian influenza. AIIMS chief also added that there is still need to do contact tracing and monitor poultry deaths in the area from where the child who died due to the virus was residing. 

On Tuesday, a 12-year-old boy from Haryana, who was infected with the H5N1 virus, recently died at AIIMS Delhi. The National Institute of Virology, Pune had confirmed the infection, Dr Guelria said.

“The transmission of the virus from birds to humans is rare and sustained human-to-human transmission of the H5N1 virus has not yet been established and therefore there is no need to panic. But then people working closely with poultry must take precautionary measures and maintain proper personal hygiene,” Dr Guleria said.

Another medical expert and an associate professor in the Department of Medicine at AIIMS, Dr Neeraj Nischal also revealed that there is no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission so far as bird flu is predominately a zoonosis.

“Although few isolated family clusters have been reported, transmission in these clusters may have occurred through common exposure and in rare situation a very close physical contact; there is no evidence of human-to-human transmission via small-particle aerosols,” he said.

“Serologic surveys have not found evidence of asymptomatic infections among contacts of active cases and nosocomial transmission to healthcare workers has not been documented,” Dr Nischal said.

“There is no need to worry if one is eating properly cooked poultry products. There is no evidence so far that it can be spread to people through properly cooked food. The virus gets destroyed when the food is cooked at high temperature. One should avoid contact with infected poultry, especially ill or dying chickens,” he said.

Additionally, AIIMS chief stated that whenever H5N1 avian flu influenza cases were reported from poultry, the authorities have taken several steps to prevent the spread of infection and tackle it early. He also added that H5N1 is usually transmitted to poultry through migratory birds and hence, people who work in close contact with poultry are at high risk of getting the infection.

Meanwhile, the 12-year-old boy was admitted to AIIMS on July 2 with pneumonia and leukaemia and died on July 12, an AIIMS source revealed. “His samples tested negative for COVID-19. It came out positive for influenza but was non-typable. It was sent to National Institute of Virology, Pune, where they confirmed it to be positive for H5N1 avian influenza,” the source had said.

Additionally, all staff at AIIMS, who were exposed to the dead person, have been asked to monitor themselves for any symptoms of flu and report to the authorities immediately.

In January, some states like Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana and Chhattisgarh culled poultry birds after the disease was reported.

(With PTI inputs)

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