By Praveen Dwivedi
New Delhi, Jul 21 (IANS): India's first ever death due to H5N1 virus, which is also known as 'Avian Influenza' or 'Bird Flu' at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in Delhi on Tuesday, that of an 11-year-old boy, has focused the medical experts' attention on this serious matter.
The medical experts said the report of a human death from H5N1 is alarming and needs to be examined thoroughly for its origin and variants and immediate measures need to be taken.
A senior doctor in AIIMS, however, said, "There is no other patient infected with Avian Influenza in AIIMS."
Senior doctors said that there is a possibility of several cases of Bird Flu but the mortality rate so far is very low. It also depends on the variant as different strains of the virus have a different impact on the human body.
"There is a possibility of having some cases of Bird Flu in Delhi also, but it is the first time such a serious thing has emerged. The death of a human is absolutely alarming for public health and it needs to be taken seriously," said Dr. B L Sherwal, medical director of Rajiv Gandhi Super Specialty Hospital.
"This case needs to be examined very carefully so that its origin can be traced and examined in a genome sequencing lab to find out more about it. We need to know whether it has come from chicken or wild bird," Sherwal added.
According to medical experts, avian influenza (H5N1) or H5N8 is commonly called Bird Flu though many other strains are prevalent. It spreads through droppings, saliva and secretions of birds.
"Virus enters the human body by inhalation or through the nose, mouth or eyes. Whenever a person touches his mouth or nose with dirty hands, there is a chance of infection. Bird Flu is a contagious respiratory illness and the symptoms are the same as the common cold. However, the disease severity varies from mild illness to severe disease. Mortality from bird flu can be as high as 60 per cent," said Dr Neetu Jain, PSRI Hospital.
Jain said mostly people working with poultry get affected by Bird Flu. People should avoid coming in contact with infected poultry directly, they should avoid consuming undercooked chicken and eggs.
She said that people who are in regular touch with birds should get a yearly flu vaccine shot. "It will not prevent bird flu but can reduce the risk of co-infection with other flu viruses," Jain added.
According to AIIMS, the boy, who died there on Tuesday, was infected with the H5N1 virus and belonged to Haryana. He was admitted on July 2 with pneumonia and leukaemia.
A senior doctor in AIIMS informed that a team from the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has been sent to the boy's village in Haryana to check for more H5N1 cases and carry out contact tracing.
Earlier this year thousands of wild birds were found dead and tens of thousands of poultry were culled after a massive wave of bird flu cases swept several states, including Haryana.
Several of the infections, however, were from a different strain of the virus - H5N8 - which experts say is less dangerous to humans.
IANS also tried to find out about bird flu cases in the national capital. However, Delhi Health Minister Satyendar Jain was yet to reply on it.