My family in Pakistan recently asked me about the potential of getting Bird flu by eating poultry meat or eggs. I was told the prices of chicken meat have fallen considerably ever since bird flu news have started to come in, and if it was deemed safe, I assume they would love to ratchet up the poultry content in their already high cholesterol meals. First the SARS and now Bird flu – they seem to be getting tired of these chicken-related pandemic fears.
The ad above was printed by the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock (Pakistan) and caught my attention (Thanks, Jamash). The English-Urdu rhyming in the title is funny – and attractive – as we recognize how anday, dandey, ganjey, etc have been a part of every day jokes. Interestingly, and perhaps intentionally, the layout resembles a food recipe more than a health brochure. A quick glance does tell us though that the basic message is clear – keep the chicken and the eggs coming!
There are many strains of bird/avian flu and it is the H5N1 variety that is causing panic around the world due to its lethal effects on humans. The virus is carried via migratory birds across the globe and is passed on to domestic birds (such as chickens). The virus can become air-borne and spreads, including from birds to birds and to humans. In most cases, the infection has spread to humans via close contact with infected birds and even though a few cases of human to human transmission have been found, the strain has not yet developed the ability to easily pass from humans to humans. If that happens, the results could be catastrophic.
The virus is not food-borne, and that is why it is still considered safe to consume poultry products. However, given the close proximity of live birds to the consumers in Pakistan, the meat-sellers (slaughtering/preparation etc) should probably exercise extra caution. WHO has recommended that to be absolutely safe all meat should be cooked to a temperature of at least 70C. Eggs (esp. if boiled) should also be thoroughly cooked. Bird flu symptoms are similar to other types of flu: fever, malaise, sore throats and coughs, headaches, sore-eyes (conjectivitis), muscle pain and viral pneumonia – but the mortality rate is nearly 50%. There is no vaccine but countries are stockpiling Tamiflu, an anti-viral drug, which is expected to ease symptons and help reduce further spread.
All in all – this is certainly a disease to keep a close eye on. Bird flu virus has already been found in chicken in Karachi, Pakistan. As an agricultural/farming economy, Pakistan is at high risk and possibly less prepared to fight a pandemic than other countries. I am happy to see that the Government of Pakistan is proactively launching PR campaigns to keep the public informed. I hope the Ministry of Health is also preparing in parallel. There is news that SAARC may also be planning a strategy to fight Bird-flu together. That is positive news!
Now I must get back to eating chicken and eggs for my mental and physical growth. My government tells me so!