Still fighting COVID-19 and its socio-economic impact, another health hazard quite significant from One Health perspective is knocking our doors though transmission to humans is quite low (Sporadic) but who knows what next? Particularly, when scientists across the globe are predicting more severe than COVID-19 outbreaks in future, often referred to as "Disease X". Avian influenza viruses such as A (H5) and A (H7) are of public health concern as these cause severe disease in humans and have potential to mutate to increase transmissibility among humans. Human infections are primarily acquired through direct contact with infected animals/contaminated environments but don't result in efficient transmission of these viruses between people. An influenza pandemic can occur when a novel influenza virus emerges with the ability to cause sustained human-to-human transmission, and the human population has little to no immunity against the virus. Considering the globalization a pandemic can spread rapidly with little time to prepare a public health response. Whether currently-circulating avian influenza virus will result in epidemic/pandemic is unknown. However, the diversity of zoonotic influenza viruses is alarming and necessitates strengthened surveillance in both animal and human populations, thorough investigation of every zoonotic infection and pandemic preparedness planning.
Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry & Dairying (DAHD) in an official release has confirmed occurrence of avian influenza in seven states (Kerala, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh). Reports of unusual mortality of birds have also been received from Chhattisgarh besides reports of unusual mortality in ducks from Sanjay Lake in Delhi. In view of bird flu scare a ban has been imposed on import of live birds in the national capital with closure of Ghazipur poultry market for 10 days. Samples of dead crows have also been sent to ICAR – NIHSAD (Bhopal) from Maharashtra for confirmation of the disease. Central teams have been deployed to visit the affected states of Kerala, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh for monitoring. In a communication to the Chief Secretaries/administrators of the states/UTs, Secretary DAHD has requested state Animal Husbandry departments to ensure effective communication and coordination with health authorities for close vigilance of the disease status and avoid any chances of jumping of the disease into humans. Besides increasing surveillance around water bodies, live bird markets, zoos, poultry farms, etc. proper disposal of carcass, and strengthening of bio-security in poultry farms have to be ensured. States have been requested to be prepared for any eventuality and ensure sufficient stock of PPE kits and accessories required for culling operations. Chief secretaries/administrators have been requested to arrange to issue appropriate advisories to quell consumer reactions, affected by rumours and increase awareness regarding safety of poultry/poultry products. Reports of unusual mortality in crows have also been received from various places of J&K, and samples have been sent to NIHSAD for confirmation. In order to prevent/control the spread of bird flu, a scheduled disease, in the UT of J&K, the competent authority has declared the whole J&K as a "Controlled Area" under Prevention and Control of Infectious and Contagious Diseases in Animals Act, 2009. The Government has also imposed a complete ban on import of live birds including poultry and unprocessed poultry meat into J&K till 14th January, 2020. In the wake of such developments Directorate of Extension, SKUAST Kashmir has also issued following advisory for poultry farmers and the consumers.
A. Poultry farmers are advised to improve bio security measures in their farms.
I. Keep farms free from all wild bird attractants like open feed, scattered indisposed carcasses etc
II. Restrict visitor entry into the farm premises.
B. Keep proper record of purchases (chicks & other supplies) for traceability.
C. Immediately report sickness in birds' characteristic of Avian Influenza to the nearest Veterinary centre. Signs include: Oedema in comb & wattles, purplish discoloration of the wattles, combs and shanks, diarrhoea, nasal discharge, coughing, sneezing, in coordination, egg abnormalities etc.
D. Feed immune boosters and antioxidants (Vitamin C, E, and selenium etc) to the birds on the recommendations of a registered Vet/Poultry Specialist.
E. Wear appropriate personnel protective equipment (PPE) including protective clothing, heavy gloves and boots, goggles, and masks, and ensure hygienic disposal/disinfection of PPE.
F. High-contact activities include handling, collecting, transporting, culling, and disposal of birds, and cleaning/disinfection of contaminated areas.
G. Any person experiencing fever (>38°C) or Influenza like illness (an acute respiratory illness with a measured temperature of ≥38°C, with onset within the past 10 days) should immediately report to health authorities for diagnostic testing and appropriate treatment.
H. The H5N1 avian influenza virus is not transmitted to humans through properly cooked food. The virus is sensitive to heat. Normal temperature used for cooking (70 °C in all parts of the food) kills the virus.
I. In areas free of the disease, poultry and poultry products can be prepared and consumed as usual, with no fear of acquiring infection with the H5N1 virus.
J. In areas experiencing outbreaks, poultry and poultry products can be safely consumed provided these items are properly handled and cooked.
With no such outbreak (officially confirmed) as on today in the Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir obviously due to a strong multi-sectoral pandemic preparedness, timely intervention of the Department of Animal, Sheep Husbandry and Fisheries for which it deserves a special praise, heavy snowfall forced national highway closure prior to imposition of ban by the Government leading to reduced/no import of live poultry birds, eggs or unprocessed poultry meat from the affected neighbouring states and minimal/no contact of wild birds with the domestic birds. However, none can afford complacency as a spark neglected burns the house. Covid-19 and the Bird Flu call for implementing One Health in a state as an integrated approach to attain optimum health for people, animals and the environment. One Health offers the opportunity to acknowledge shared interests, set common goals, and drive towards team work to benefit overall health of a nation.
Views expressed are authors' own
Aijaz A Dar, Masood S Mir & Nazir Ahmed, Directorate of Extension, SKUAST-Kashmir