Is it safe to eat poultry products in bird flu outbreaks?

Is it safe to eat poultry products in bird flu outbreaks?

Yes, though certain precautions should be followed in countries currently experiencing outbreaks, which are as follows;

  • In areas free of the disease, poultry and poultry products can be prepared and consumed as usual (following good hygienic practices and proper cooking), with no fear of acquiring infection with the H5N1 virus.
  • In areas experiencing outbreaks, poultry and poultry products can also be safely consumed provided these items are properly cooked and properly handled during food preparation.
  • The H5N1 virus is sensitive to heat. Normal temperatures used for cooking (70°C in all parts of the food) will kill the virus. Consumers need to be sure that all parts of the poultry are fully cooked (no “pink” parts) and that eggs, too, are properly cooked (no “runny” yolks). Consumers should also be aware of the risk of cross-contamination. Juices from raw poultry and poultry products should never be allowed, during food preparation, to touch or mix with items eaten raw.
  • When handling raw poultry or raw poultry products, persons involved in food preparation should wash their hands thoroughly and clean and disinfect surfaces in contact with the poultry products Soap and hot water are sufficient for this purpose.
  • In areas experiencing outbreaks in poultry, raw eggs should not be used in foods that will not be further heat-treated as, for example by cooking or baking.
  • Avian influenza is not transmitted through cooked food. To date, no evidence indicates that anyone has become infected following the consumption of properly cooked poultry or poultry products, even when these foods were contaminated with the H5N1 virus.

What are the pandemic risks of bird flu?

A new influenza virus subtype emerges; it infects human, causing serious illness; and it spreads easily and sustainably among humans. The H5N1 virus amply meets the first two conditions: it is a new virus for humans (H5N1 virus have never circulated widely among people), and it has infected more than 100 humans, killing over half of them.

  • No one will have immunity should an H5N1-like pandemic virus emerge. The establishment of efficient and sustained human-to-human transmission of the virus.
  • The risk that the H5N1 virus will acquire this ability will persist as long as opportunities for human infections occur. These opportunities, in turn, will persist as long as the virus continues to circulate in birds, and this situation could endure for some years to come.
  • The virus can improve its transmissibility among humans via two principal mechanisms. The first is a “reassortment” event, in which genetic material is exchanged between human and avian viruses during co-infection of a human or pig.
  • Reassortment could result in a fully transmissible pandemic virus, announced by a sudden surge of cases with explosive spread. The second mechanism is a more gradual process of adaptive mutation, whereby the capability of the virus to bind to human cells increases during subsequent infections of humans.
  • Adaptive mutation, expressed initially as small clusters of human cases with some evidence of human to human transmission, would probably give the world some time to take defensive action.
  • The most important warning signal comes when clusters of patients with clinical symptoms of influenza, closely related in time and place, are detected, as this suggests human-to-human transmission is taking place.
  • For similar reasons, the detection of cases in health workers caring for H5N1 patients would suggest human-to-human transmission. Detection of such events should be followed by immediate field investigation of every possible case to confirm the diagnosis, identify the source, and determine whether human to human transmission is occurring.
  • Studies of viruses, conducted by specialized WHO reference laboratories, can corroborate field investigations by spotting genetic and other changes in the virus indicative of an improved ability to infect humans.
  • This is why WHO repeatedly asks affected countries to share viruses with the international research community.

Guidelines for prevention of spread of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza

There should be strict regulation of entry of personnel, material visitors, vehicles etc. and entry should be allowed only after following proper disinfection procedure. All material including the vehicle should be disinfected thoroughly at the entry point of the farm by providing appropriate disinfection facilities including deep spray etc. All personal vehicles should not be allowed inside the premises, where the stock is maintained. All personnel should wear protective clothing, gumboots and mask if necessary and enter into the farm after observing proper disinfection procedures. No visitor should be allowed inside the farm. However these visitors should not be allowed to visit the poultry stock maintained in the farm.

Measures to control rodents and insects in the entire premises with the cleaning of vegetation around the farm should be resorted to. Measures to dispose of the droppings/ faeces of the poultry should be undertaken by deep burial or incineration. All waste products including the dead poultry, spoils eggs and other waste material from the poultry pan should be disposed off through incineration or deep burial with disinfection (any detergent along with other standard disinfectant). There should not be exchange of any material and personnel between the different pans. If unavoidable, complete disinfection procedure of material and hygienic precaution by the personnel should be adopted strictly before and after the exchange operations. All the farm should adopt a vigilance system for early detection of suspected cases of the disease and for appropriate follow up action. It would be desirable that different teams are constituted to visit different pans of the farm.

These teams should adopt strict disinfection procedure along with protective clothing, gloves, mask & caps etc. during their visit and undergo a complete disinfection procedure before moving into the next pan. Any suspected case detected by the vigilance team should be reported to the farm authority and to the state veterinary department immediately for any support needed by the farmer, breeder or farm. The suspected flock should be quarantined in-situ by imposing all the disinfection procedure and stopping any exchange of material from that locality to other parts of the farm and outside of the farm. Follow up action may be taken as per the advice of the department of veterinary services or animal husbandry or a qualified veterinary officer of the state department. In the event of detection of infection in the flock of the suspected disease the entire operation of the farm in terms of marketing of produce, birds, eggs etc. should be stopped completely till the disease passes off. This regulatory mechanism will be in force till one month of the last case detected in the said farm.

All such poultry farms, breeders and farmers should stop immediately entry of new birds in the flock from outside sources and from sources of unknown diseases status. Before allowing entry of new stock it should be ensured that similar type of disease has not occurred in the supply farm at least within 3 months period. The farm which has encountered this disease and no clinical cases have been detected should not move the birds out of the farm before expiry of thirty days period with verification of the fact by the state government veterinary officer. In order to provide immediate help and support to the farms, poultry breeders and farmers the State authority should gear up the emergency responsive system as per exigencies under intimation to the Chairman of National Animal Disease Emergency Committee and Secretary, Department of Animal Husbandry & Dairying, Government of India.

The state government should draw up a plan to monitor and regulate the movement of birds and other produce from this poultry farm located in the infected belt so as to minimise the risk of spread of the infection to the other parts of the country. If necessary, state government should take recourse to the state legislative provision/ Act available for this purpose. In the event of detection of infection / outbreak in any farm the follow up action will be taken as per direction of the state authorities. The cullers should use goggles, impervious aprons, gloves, gum boots and face masks. State Government should organise awareness camps related with various poultry diseases. Field veterinarians are required to know the differentiating characters of HPAI from other diseases viz., RD, Fowl cholera. Identification of diseased birds, material to be collected, Method of sample collection and Laboratories where the samples can be sent for testing.

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