A 21 years old man, reported to be from Kavre district, succumbed to bird flu on March 29 and it has spread panic among commoners. However, Ministry of Health and Population (MoHP) has not disclosed details about the deceased. This is why Nepal’s Health Ministry, as well as other agencies working in health sector, should spread awareness about what actually triggers bird flu, what preventive measures people should take to avoid it and also keep our health facilities equipped to deal with the patients who visit the hospitals to seek treatment. Bird flu can be deadly unless treated on time. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), bird flu is caused by the highly pathogenic avian influenza A (H5N1) virus or other non-human influenza sub-types (e.g. H7, H9). According to WHO, 454 out of 860 infected people have died of bird flu since 2003. And fatality rate among hospitalized patients with confirmed bird flu infection has been about 60 percent, according to a study.
Human beings become exposed to this disease through bird-to-human, environment-to-human and even human-to-human transmission. Direct contact or exposure with infected poultry or with surfaces and objects contaminated by their droppings can spread the transmission faster. Initial symptoms include fever and influenza-like illness (cough and sore throat being two). Diarrhea and other gastrointestinal symptoms may also occur. People should avoid contact with live animal markets and poultry farms or surfaces that might be contaminated by poultry droppings. They should also avoid consumption of undercooked eggs, poultry or poultry products. And in case of persistence of certain flu-related symptoms, patients should immediately consult the physicians. This is the obvious information but many in Nepal seem unaware of this mainly because our information dissemination system is not so systematic.
As a result people tend to react with panic when the news of bird flu outbreak is reported. Often the most commonly asked question around such occasions is: How safe is it to consume chickens? Many tend to think consuming chicken item in itself can cause bird flu. Most seem to live without any clue of where they should visit for cure. Information regarding this can be disseminated by the government through various means of mass media such as newspapers, TV or even social media networks. This might sound like a simplistic idea but it helps in spreading awareness. Besides, our hospitals—both private and public—are often not equipped with resources and machines to diagnose bird flu. Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital based in Teku is the only place where most people go to during the outbreak of flu related ailments but even this hospital is not best equipped to deal with the cases urgently. For the last one decade or more, there have been incidents of bird flu in Nepal almost every year. Awareness and prevention measures need to be kept operational because we have poultry farms in almost every district and in the villages, there is the tradition of raising chickens and ducks within the household premises. In lack of awareness, people tend to deal with these birds without taking into account safety considerations. With prevention measures, people can be saved from bird flu. Moreover, the hospitals and other facilities should be well-prepared to be able to tackle properly as the situation may worsen. This is where the focus of the authority should be.