Safe to eat chicken and eggs?


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Person checks eggs before buying. Photo: Viktoriia Olenberg / Alamy Stock Photo

Even as we continue to grapple with the pandemic, another virus has reappeared in the country. This time around though, it is our winged friends that are at risk. On Sunday, the Centre’s Department of Animal Husbandry and Dairying confirmed a bird flu outbreak in seven states- Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Haryana. Soon after, samples from Maharashtra and Delhi also tested positive for the virus. 

But what is Bird Flu? 

The Bird Flu, also known as Avian Influenza, is a viral infection that causes respiratory diseases among birds. The first outbreak happened in China in 1996. Ever since then, outbreaks have occurred periodically in many parts of the world. It is believed that some birds could be carriers of the virus, which they may spread to other birds through their droppings. This is why bird flu outbreaks often coincide with migratory seasons and tend to affect regions that see a lot of migratory birds. 

Can I catch bird flu from eating chicken?

The A (H5N1) strain of the virus can transfer across species and infect humans. But this spread is not easy.  The first human infection from bird flu was reported in 1977, when a poultry farm worker caught the virus by handling infected birds. Most at risk are those who work with infected birds, or consume poultry products that are undercooked.

Is bird flu infectious?

At present, no human-to-human transmission of bird flu is known to exist. 

So can I eat eggs and chicken? 

Dr. A S Ranade, Dean of Bombay Veterinary College, told Indian Express that human infection through the H5N1 virus in India is actually low when compared to Southeast Asian countries. The reason? Our eating habits. Most meat and egg preparations in India tend to be well-cooked. And the virus cannot survive in high temperatures. “The virus dies immediately if exposed to temperatures over 70 degrees Celsius. Unlike in South East Asian countries, both meat and eggs in India are eaten well cooked, which sees them being exposed to over 100 degrees Celsius. Thus the chances of humans contracting the virus from eating chicken and eggs is extremely rare”. So for now, avoid the zoos and bird markets, and, if you are consuming poultry, make sure it’s well done. 

What you need to know about the current outbreak of bird flu 

The last major bird flu outbreak in India was reported in Maharashtra in 2006, when a large number of poultry birds had to be culled to curb the spread. This time, the infection is majorly being reported in wild birds, crows and migratory birds like wild aquatic ducks and geese. Hundreds of avian lives have already been lost and culling of birds is underway in many states. In India, both A (H5N8) and A (H5N1) strains have been detected so far. 



Updated: January 11, 2021 — 7:58 am

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