Nepal has been witnessing bird flu outbreaks since 2009. Bird flu, also termed avian influenza, is a severe, often fatal, type of influenza that affects birds, especially poultry and that can also be transmitted to humans. Past incidents show the intensity of avian flu in Nepal. The year 2013 saw thousands of chickens across different districts being culled as a result of the virus outbreak.
In February, 2019 reports from Pokhara confirmed the flu in some ducks and in March, bird flu was detected in two poultry farms at Tarkeshwar Municipality in Kathmandu. The infectious disease, medically known as H5N1 influenza virus, was detected and confirmed in the chicken and as many as 28,000 hens were destroyed. In February, the District Administration Office, Makawanpur, decided to compensate farmers in flu-hit area in Hetauda Sub-Metropolitan City after 41,000 chickens were culled. The Veterinary hospitals confirmed the outbreak while poultry entrepreneurs association has said it baseless.The rapid response has also culled 100,000 chickens in various parts of the country: Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, Lalitpur, Makwanpur, Kaski, Morang, and Sunsari.
Most of the time, this disease has been seen in poultry, but in the third week of March 2019, 350 crows were found dead in Lainchaur and Durbar Marg areas of Kathmandu. The Department of Livestock Services confirmed that the dead birds have been tested positive for H5N1 strain of influenza virus. Detection of the flu virus in crows has worried many as this type of bird, unlike chicken, can fly, spreading the disease to other animals including pets, such as dogs and cats, and also to humans. The Department has sent the samples of dead crows and chickens to Australia for genome sequencing, to confirm the occurrence of the disease and identify possible changes in the biology of the virus. There is always a fear that the Influenza viruses undergo constant genetic change.
Humans can contract H5N1 virus from saliva, excretion and feathers of the infected birds and the pets, from the dead birds. As almost all cases of H5N1 infection in people have been associated with close contact with infected live or dead birds, or H5N1-contaminated environments. Doctors have asked people not to panic as the virus is of low risk to humans as the virus does not infect human easily, and spread between person to person appears to be unusual. There is no evidence of the disease spreading to people through properly prepared and thoroughly cooked food. It is safe to eat properly cooked poultry as the normal temperature used for cooking (70° C) kill the H5N1 virus. However, the flu, when transmitted to human may pose severe health problems, if not diagnosed and treated on time, and the virus would never leave the host body.
We cannot take risk of a situation where the flu virus has such a genomic change by which it can be easily transmissible among humans and have increased lethality. Every case of the avian flu should be reported and controlled considering Human Security. Unfortunately, on May 2, the Ministry of Health and Population announced that a person had died from the avian flu, the first human casualty in Nepal. The Ministry confirmed death of a 21-year-old on March 29. It has raised concerns whether the virus has made a resurgence after first H5N1 human infection in the world since February. The authorities concerned, should hence, stay on alert and act to control further infection. The poultry entrepreneurs should also act responsibly as healthy environment is a shared responsibility of the people, government, and businesses.
With commitment, the poultry entrepreneurs have time and again assured that they are sensitive to human health and would cull the chicken on their own if bird flu is confirmed. The Government, however, pays compensation in case of outbreaks. The compensation of what the government pays for the loss may not be equivalent to the total loss, and it may run higher as the payment takes months. The poultry entrepreneurs, as responsible businesses, should consider human security at the highest priority, and the government should take prompt action to control the disease on time as the disease is highly mutative, and viruses are evolving to be highly pathogenic.
Author: Milan Karki
 Flying used to denote that the flu has been detected in crows that fly far off