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General Studies 3 >> Science & Technology

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1. Context
The World Health Organization (WHO) on June 5 2024 confirmed the death of a 59-year-old man in Mexico caused by a strain of bird flu called H5N2, which was never recorded in humans before. The man, who died on April 24, had no history of exposure to poultry or other animals, raising significant concerns about the virus’s transmission. 
2. Avian Influenza
Avian influenza, commonly known as bird flu, is a viral infection that primarily affects birds. Avian influenza is a zoonotic disease, meaning it can spread from animals to humans. Certain subtypes of the virus infect humans, leading to severe respiratory illnesses. 

Symptoms of avian influenza in humans are similar to those of regular flu and can include: Fever, cough, sore throat, muscle aches, and severe respiratory distress in advanced cases.

3. Avian Influenza Type A Viruses
  • Type A viruses are classified based on two proteins on their surfaces – Hemagglutinin (HA) and Neuraminidase (NA). There are about 18 HA subtypes and 11 NA subtypes.
  • Several combinations of these two proteins are possible e.g., H5N1, H7N2, H9N6, H17N10, H18N11, etc.
  • All known subtypes of influenza A viruses can infect birds, except subtypes H17N10 and H18N11, which have only been found in bats.
  • The most notable of these subtypes is H5N1, which has been responsible for numerous human infections and fatalities in the past.
4. Avian Influenza and Human Transmission
The recent incident in Mexico raises significant concerns as the person affected had no identified contact with infected animals. This suggests a possible shift in the virus's capacity to transmit to humans without direct interaction with poultry implying a deviation from the traditional mode of transmission, where humans contract the virus through exposure to poultry. It indicates a new level of transmission or virulence of the virus that was not previously observed in the region.
Human infections with avian influenza viruses are not unprecedented yet rare, the potential for the virus to adapt and spread among humans is a serious public health concern. The H5N1 subtype, in particular, has caused human fatalities since it was first identified in humans in 1997. However, each new case, especially one without direct animal contact, underscores the importance of continuous monitoring and preparedness.
5. WHO Response
The WHO has emphasized the need for heightened vigilance and preventive measures to reduce the risk of infection.

The Mexico case serves as a reminder of the ongoing need for global health systems to remain alert to the threats posed by zoonotic diseases and to ensure rapid response mechanisms are in place to prevent widespread outbreaks.

6. Key Recommendations
Enhanced measures include:
a) Avoiding high-risk environments like live animal markets  and contact with sick or dead birds;
b) Prompt reporting of sick animals and consuming only thoroughly cooked poultry products
c) Ensuring practice of good hand hygiene and prompt medical care to individuals exposed to infected birds or environments
d) Implementing robust surveillance systems to detect and respond to new cases promptly.
7. Related Initiatives
i) India's self-declaration of freedom from Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) has been approved by World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH) in specific poultry compartments which follows a "detect and cull" policy as outlined in the National Action Plan for Prevention, Control, and Containment of Avian Influenza (revised - 2021).
ii) The Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System (GISRS), The Pandemic Influenza Preparedness (PIP) framework by World Health Organization (WHO). 
For Prelims: 
Avian influenza H5N2, Avian influenza H5N1, Bird Flu, Hemagglutinin (HA) and Neuraminidase (NA), influenza A viruses, Genomic surveillance, Pathogens, and Viruses.
For Mains:
1.Discuss the impact of the H5N2 Avian Influenza virus on public health. What measures can be implemented at national and international levels to mitigate the spread of avian influenza viruses and minimize their impact on both poultry production and human health?

Previous Year Questions

1. H1N1 virus is sometimes mentioned in the news with reference to which one of the following diseases? (UPSC 2015)

B.  Bird flu
C.  Dengue
D.  Swine flu

Answer: D

2. Consider the following statements : (UPSC 2010)

1. Every individual in the population is an equally susceptible host for Swine Flu.

2. Antibiotics have no role in the primary treatment of Swine Flu.

3. To prevent the future spread of Swine Flu in the epidemic area, the swine (pigs) must all be culled.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

A. 1 and 2 only

B. 2 only

C. 2 and 3 only

D. 1, 2 and 3

Answer: A

3. Which of the following statements is/are correct? (UPSC 2013)

1. Viruses lack enzymes necessary for the generation of energy.

2. Viruses can be cultured in any synthetic medium.

3. Viruses are transmitted from one organism to another by biological vectors only.

Select the correct answer using the codes given below.

A. 1 only

B. 2 and 3 only

C. 1 and 3 only

D. 1, 2 and 3

Answer: A

 4. Which of the following statements is/are correct? Viruses can infect (UPSC 2016)

  1. Bacteria
  2. Fungi
  3. Plants

Select the correct answer using the code given below:

(a) 1 and 2 only
(b) 3 only 
(c) 1 and 3 only
(d) 1, 2 and 3

Ans: (d)

Source -  Indian Express

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