A bird flu outbreak continues to spread and threatens to kill tens of millions of chickens worldwide. Though other wild and domestic birds can also carry the bird flu too, only domestic chickens are culled because they’re present near humans, increasing the chances for human-to-human transmission of the deadly virus, according to the current central government bird flu action plan. With temperatures rising, the threat of bird flu is more acute than ever.

a chicken sitting and hatching it's eggs - bird flu outbreak

So how should you handle a bird flu outbreak? How do you stop the deaths of tens of millions of birds and prevent the importation of bird flu into poultry and pork markets? How do you contain the potential risks posed by bird flu viruses on poultry farms and in bird sanctuaries? How do you respond to sudden outbreaks of bird flu in poultry facilities and in bird feeding areas, which are the contacts of wild birds and humans?

The authorities in India are dealing with the bird flu outbreak very gingerly. Already a major poultry exporter in Kerala has announced a total ban on all poultry activities until the situation normalizes. The authorities in Kerala are taking preventive measures, such as compulsory quarantining of all birds in all hatcheries and depots, and closing down processing units, even on a temporary basis.

In addition, all suspected human infection cases have been quarantined and all healthcare workers have been directed to wear adequate face masks and gowns to prevent infection.

There has been a recent outbreak of influenza A(H5N8), the type that is most commonly associated with bird flu. However, H5N8 is not a part of the bird flu family. Human infections have been reported with wild birds that have been infected with H5N8. There have been no reports of human infections so far with the bird variety.

If you are traveling to Kerala and intend to visit poultry farms, you should take special precautions. The government has advised the bird flu vaccination of these farms, but voluntary organizations have been coming up with their own measures of protection. These measures include culling. The culling is still being discussed in the villages here. The idea is to manage the population more effectively while reducing the chances of bird flu reaching Kerala.

Those who are frequent travelers to Kerala and other south Indian states will find that there are many open-air markets where they can purchase duck and poultry products. One of the challenges they face is the limited access to bird flu vaccines. The authorities in Kerala are taking aggressive steps to implement bird flu prevention measures as soon as possible.

The only hope is that if travelers from outside the state visit these markets during the period of the bird flu outbreak, they might help sellers by offering them discounted prices on vaccines. This could mean a substantial saving on the part of travelers.

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-Manjeet Ahuja

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