A leading English daily reported an outbreak of influenza in Jhalawara, Radi when crows were found dead on New Year’s Eve. Times of India’s (TOI) January 3rd, 2021 edition was the predecessor to a week long news about mysterious, mystifying and uncertain avian deaths that were a grim reminder of November 2019. 18,000 birds had died due to botulism at Sambhar Lake, Rajasthan in the dead of winter and desperation had gripped those trying to arrest the epidemic and save the birds.
Bird Flu: A Repeated Outbreak of Avian Illness in India
But this time, along with migratory birds, crows, ducks, poultry are dying as well across India. 2300 migratory birds were reported to have died at Pong Dam Reservoir on January 5th, 2021. In Kerala, 12,000 ducks had been culled to death due to the third outbreak of bird flu in 7-years in Alapuzzha.
Infact, 12 epicenters have been put under watch for possible outbreaks in farms as the H5N1 clade of bird flu is highly pathogenic and can affect human beings, reported TOI on 7th January, 2021.
Cascading avian life, falling from the skies to its death never to take wings has caused active vigilance, prevention drives and clinical intervention and research. States like Rajasthan are keeping a check on poultry and farm infection. Kerala is culling its poultry and all reported cases are being sent to the lab for investigation. Confirmation of a highly pathogenic bird flu has put all hands at caution lest there be a double pandemic in town.
Brief History Of Bird Flu Illness in India
The Ministry of Animal Husbandry is considering whether the disease is related to migratory birds and is not ruling out the second possibility of a human role in the avian flu. But are migratory birds carriers of the Indian bird flu?
India was ready to fight and control bird flu in 2005. The first attack came in 2006, when the outbreak had already affected many countries of the world, but most will not remember. Perhaps the horrors of mass migratory bird deaths last year haunt us when we open our morning papers today. We would certainly be amazed if we were told that avian flu/influenza are diseases that have been an annual phenomena since March 2006 in India. Every year, bird flu/influenza has been tackled and India has been declared free of the disease. The only problem is, for a decade now, it has been recurring again and again.
The Problems With Avian Flu and Solutions to Diseases
Annual bird flu and influenza events are concerning. They come as a surprise, few understand why birds drop out of trees in hordes, panic sets in, resources dwindle, and slaughterhouses open at farms. For those whose food is poultry, it is a big loss and gruesome to witness. Some of us mourn the loss of beautiful birds who chill the damp, winter air with their unsaid goodbyes. The migratory bird has a routine farewell as it takes off to distance lands. We know winter is turning to spring. One repeats, are migratory birds carriers of the Indian bird flu?
Perhaps if put into context the bird flu, we would realise that just as the recent global pandemic, it too is a global disease that affects birds and as a consequence, is a risk to human life. Localisation of the disease is necessary in order to identify the strains that emerge within certain climates and environments. But in India, one seems to be at a loss every time there is an epidemic of the flu in the country. The November 2019 epidemic of botulism was local, but any H5N1 clade infection may not be. To understand both is then a careful task wherein suspected carriers are seen in terms of the histories of species migration, the paths they take, the seasons they encounter and the current environments they are visiting in the times of SARS, COVID, Environmental pollution (water, air), wasteland health, climate change, animal and avian care and protection standards across the globe.
In other words, is the migratory bird largely responsible for bird flu in India? The migratory bird may be at risk of being subjected to this question and vigilance thereafter. It is only responsible for its own migration map in the human world. The ecosystem it shares with the human world is in jeopardy since the pandemic, and some might even suggest since a few decades now. The conscious human being recognises that a bird of great flight must be protected on its journey year after year, despite uncertainties in our global environment. And so, both botulism, bird flu and any other outbreaks, are our problem too. Not just the birds’ problem.