H5N1 Bird Flu: Is It Transferable to Humans? 5 Precautionary Tips


H5N1 is one of the earliest type of avian flu that infected humans. Recently, it also death of penguin species raising alarm bells across the globe.

Avian flu or bird flu is a viral infection that is not just restricted bird or poultry. It can also affect humans. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), bird flu was first discovered in 1997 and has nearly taken the lives of 60 per cent of people who were affected. While there are subvarianst of avian flu, H5N1 was the first that infected humans too.

According to a report by Reuters, A deadly type of bird flu has been found in gentoo penguins for the first time, according to the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR), stoking concern that the virus could spread among Antarctica’s huge penguin colonies. Researchers found, opens new tab about 35 penguins dead in the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic on Jan. 19. Samples taken from two of the dead penguins came back positive for the H5N1 avian influenza virus, said Ralph Vanstreels, a veterinarian who works with SCAR.

Is H5N1 Transferable to Humans?

According to WHO, due to the constantly evolving nature of influenza viruses, and the large outbreaks among animal populations, WHO continues to stress the importance of global surveillance to detect and monitor virological, epidemiological, and clinical changes associated with emerging or circulating influenza viruses that may affect human (or animal) health, and of timely virus sharing for risk assessment.

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The diversity of zoonotic influenza viruses that have caused human infections is alarming and necessitates strengthened surveillance in both animal and human populations, thorough investigation of every zoonotic infection, and pandemic preparedness planning. Vaccination of poultry workers with seasonal influenza vaccine has been advised to prevent a viral mutation that could facilitate human-to-human transmission.

H5N1 Bird Flu Symptoms in Humans:

  • Diarrhoea
  • Fever
  • Persistent headaches
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny nose

Preventive Tips

  1. Wash hands after contact with a contaminated surface
  2. Wear a mask when handling birds
  3. Countries should increase public awareness
  4. Avoid contact with high-risk environments such as live animal markets/farms, live poultry, or
  5. Be vigilant and avoid surfaces that may be contaminated by poultry or bird faeces.

Penguin Deaths in Antarctica

The Falkland Islands government told Reuters that many more gentoos were dying under similar circumstances. As of Jan. 30, “there are over 200 chicks dead alongside a handful of adults”, said government spokesperson Sally Heathman. The deaths confirm that gentoo penguins are susceptible to the lethal disease that has decimated bird populations across the world in recent months. However, gentoos rarely travel between the Falklands off Argentina’s coast and the Antarctic Peninsula, which lies some 1,300 kilometres (800 miles) to the south. That means traveling penguins are unlikely to drive the spread to the southern continent, said Vanstreels, a researcher affiliated with University of California-Davis.

Conservationists are more concerned about other species, Vanstreels said. Elephant seals and fur seals have died in larger numbers from bird flu in South Georgia, following mass casualties in those species in South America.
“This is especially concerning because South Georgia is home to 95 percent of the world’s population of Antarctic fur seals. If that population collapses, the species will be in a critical situation,” he said.

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