Bird flu has always come on and off in India and has seen a steady rise early this year. As a result, many online sites and people’s opinions have given rise to multiple rumors creating confusion for everyone. It simply gives birth to baseless WhatsApp messages and other forwards that some people start following blindly. And before you know it, fake information spreads, getting considered as the truth without even being verified. Many people think it is unsafe to eat poultry during this time but sources confirm that you can eat meat as long as you cook it thoroughly and don’t eat it raw. So, what really is the avian flu and how does it affect birds? As per the World Health Organization (WHO), the H5N1 is a type of influenza that causes highly infectious, severe respiratory disease in birds called avian. Due to misinformation, many people have stopped eating poultry and the industry has taken a major hit. So let’s clear a few things out:
Safe To Eat When Cooked
According to WHO, poultry is safe to eat when it is cooked at normal temperatures. The virus cannot survive in the heat and will thus die off before you even place the food on your plate. However, caution must be observed while cleaning raw meat and eating eggs. You need to make sure that the egg you’re eating has been cooked thoroughly. Even if you’re eating chicken, there should be no pink or red visible in your meat. It is a bigger priority than your vegetables as it is more likely for bacteria to accumulate in flesh. Officials usually advise that the meat should be cooked all the way through the center to ensure that it is properly cooked (1).
Experts have also advised that the food should be cooked and not microwaved. Reheating leftover non-vegetarian food, again and again, is a bad idea as the time it spends in the refrigerator is enough to accumulate unwanted substances. You should always try to consume it freshly. If not possible, heat on the gas instead. This is also because the rays produced by the microwaves aren’t enough to sufficiently kill off the virus. It’s also a smart idea to cook the meal for yourself rather than ordering in or making someone else cook for you. This will help you ensure that you know exactly what you’re cooking and you can eat the chicken without worrying about catching anything. Among people, the virus is spread through improper hygiene while dealing with poultry and birds that have been slaughtered. People who work closely with poultry are at high risk of getting the infection. Otherwise, human-to-human transmission of the H5N1 virus is very rare. Hence there is no need to panic.
Who Is At Risk?
The flu is usually spread through migratory birds that travel around the country. However, a secondary spread through the mishandling of poultry is also quite possible. A study from Bangladesh states how workers contracted the virus while working at large-scale bird markets (2). This is why butchers and slaughterhouses are advised to practice safe handling of poultry and they have been advised to be extremely cautious while handling the meat. Even if you’re buying meat from a slaughterhouse, make sure that you are sufficiently gloved up and have washed the meat thoroughly.
The WHO center has also advised those who are collecting and testing samples of the dead birds to wear special PPE kits while doing so. Even those who are responsible for the culling of infected birds will have to be extremely careful while dealing with blood, saliva, and droppings as they are highly contagious. Even if someone is to get infected, which is very rare, there is a very low chance of the virus spreading human-to-human, and thus families and relatives of those infected can rest easy (3).
You may remember when bird flu came to India a few years ago, many states took precautions to curb the spread of the virus. Many places had started temporarily closing down their poultry markets, killing birds that are affected by the virus, and creating something called “bio bubbles” around zoos and bird sanctuaries to protect those birds and other endangered animals from contracting the virus. Bio bubble is basically a secured environment or premise that is created for isolation and tests. This way, the spreading of the virus can be curbed and stopped. Many states were drastically affected by the avian virus, like Kerala, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Uttarakhand.
The last time India was affected by bird flu was in the year 2006 and there were quite a few flare-ups of the disease over the past century. Many doctors caution people not to panic unnecessarily as there has been no confirmed case of human transmission yet. There must have been a familiar incident where you noticed a surge of similar text forwards regarding health issues and false information about boycotting products. It is very easy for the masses to believe circulated info and side with the majority. The main issue is to stop encouraging such messages to make rounds and look for verified sites if you have queries about food and health consumption for example.
It is usually advised to urge meat lovers to be extremely careful about what they consume and to practice proper hygiene while consuming chicken. If you’re thinking of buying shawarma right now, we’d advise you to skip it if you have a low immunity system or are simply prone to developing allergies. It is also advised not to consume any runny eggs during the onset of bird flu. As much as we all love eating soft-boiled eggs, only firm egg yolks are meant to be consumed during this time.
So don’t let any of your vegetarian friends mock you or ask you to switch to vegetarian food. Just show them this article and a few studies to clear the misconceptions. All in all, just practice regular hygiene and clean your meat well so that you don’t run any risk of catching the flu. Do let us know what your thoughts on this article are? Are you surprised by what the WHO had to say?
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- Five keys to safer food
- Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza A(H5N1) Virus Infection among Workers at Live Bird Markets, Bangladesh, 2009–2010
- Influenza (Avian and other zoonotic)