Debunking Myths: Can Eating Chicken Cause H5N1 Infection in humans?

The first reports of H5N1 infections in humans occurred in 1997 during a poultry outbreak in Hong Kong.The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that between 2003 and 2024, there were 888 instances of H5N1, and 463 of those cases resulted in fatalities. As a matter of fact, India disclosed the first H5N1 infection and fatality in 2021. Respiratory failure claimed the life of the 11-year-old kid at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi.

Avian influenza (sometimes known as “bird flu”) is a highly contagious, serious respiratory illness that is caused in birds by the H5N1 influenza virus. Although there are few human instances of H5N1 avian influenza, the virus is not easily spread from person to person. Infected individuals have a roughly 60% death rate. In contrast, even with the most virulent strains, the death rate with Covid-19 was just about three percent.

Since late 2021, HPAI A(H5) viruses, mostly those of the HPAI A(H5N1) clade 2.3.4.4b viruses, have been spreading around the world in wild birds living in the United States. These viruses have broken out in backyard and commercial poultry, and the virus has spread to livestock, where it has sometimes infected people. Four human infections with the highly dangerous avian influenza A virus have been reported from Cambodia recently. These represent the first HPAI A virus infections in humans that have been reported in Cambodia in 2024.The H5N1 virus that has caused epidemics in poultry and wild birds in the US and other countries is not the same as what exists in Cambodia.

The symptoms of an H5N1 virus might include

• muscular pains

• coughing

• sore throats

• fever (usually high temperature, > 38°C), and malaise.

Early symptoms may also include abdominal pain, chest pain and bowel movements. Rapid infection progress may result in severe respiratory sickness (e.g., breathlessness, pneumonia, Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome) and neurological abnormalities (e.g., altered mental state, seizures).

Oseltamivir, an antiviral medication, can be given to people at an early stage of their illness. Respiratory symptoms have to be handled in a hospital ICU. Preliminary investigation suggests that candidate vaccine viruses (CVVs) against similar clade 2.3.4.4b viruses may offer reasonable protection against H5N1 influenza viruses. These viruses are ready for vaccine manufacture if needed. Seasonal flu shots offer little defense against these infections. Samples of viruses are still being analyzed. There are also vaccine  that have been produced, but not easily accessible for H5N1.

How is the WHO handling the H5N1 a global outbreak? 

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WHO collaborates with nations to support them in identifying and responding to human instances of H5N1 infection.

To stop  the spread of animal illnesses, WHO works with international health partners and organizations such as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).

The Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System (GISRS), an international laboratory system run by the World Health Organization (WHO), detects and tracks influenza virus strains that are spreading, advising nations on potential risks to public health and appropriate preventive measures.

Does eating chicken cause viral infection?

Nearly all human occurrences of H5N1 infection have been linked to close contact with sick birds, either alive or dead, or environments polluted with the virus.

When chicken is cooked correctly, the pathogen is killed by high temperatures, rendering the chicken safe to eat.

 

Links

https://www.cdc.gov/flu/avianflu/avian-flu-summary.html

https://www.who.int/emergencies/disease-outbreak-news/item/2024-DON511

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