Staff Reporter

NEW DELHI: A note of caution has been sounded across the Capital with the Union Government confirming on Saturday the country's first outbreak of the deadly H5N1 avian flu virus among chicken in Maharashtra.

While there is widespread public apprehension about possible spread of the infection in poultry, private hospitals here claim to have a protocol in place to face any eventuality.

Avian flu is influenza that infects birds, including wild birds such as ducks and domestic birds including chicken. "The bird flu virus can occasionally jump between species and infect people who have been in close contact with infected birds. The symptoms of bird flu in humans -- depending upon the virus that caused the infection -- include sore throat, cough, fever, pneumonia, respiratory distress and respiratory failure," said the Head of the Department of Internal Medicine at the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences here, Dr. Anoop Misra.

Doctors insist there is need for caution as "the currently available vaccines are not effective against the H5N1 strain of the virus''.

A senior microbiologist at the Capital's Indraprastha Apollo Hospital said: "Anti-viral medications used to treat human flu viruses may be effective at treating bird flu. The anti-viral drug called oseltamivir (Tamiflu) can reduce the severity of ordinary flu but there is currently no vaccine to prevent bird flu in humans.''

Physicians have also advised avoiding poultry raised or kept in farms and markets, and to avoid contact with sick or dead poultry.

While information about the flu has already spelt bad news for the poultry market in the Capital that has previously faced the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) "panic" resulting in fast descending poultry prices, with this latest news on Saturday wholesale suppliers are now fearing the worst.

"The market for poultry will take a beating with this news and prices will fall. We will try our best to assure the buyers that all precautions will be taken to keep the poultry clean and healthy," said a leading poultry trader of the Capital.

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