Health Sector – UHC, National Health Policy, Family Planning, Health Insurance, etc.

Global Spread of H5N1 Bird Flu


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: H5N1 Bird Flu

Mains level: NA

Why in the news?

  • Since 2020, the highly pathogenic H5N1 bird flu has been spreading globally, posing a significant threat to both birds and mammals.

H5N1 Bird Flu: Details

  • H5N1 originated from a virus outbreak on a goose farm in China in 1996 and has since evolved into a highly pathogenic strain.
  • The virus quickly spread from Europe to Africa, Asia, North America, and South America, and most recently, it reached mainland Antarctica.
  • H5N1 is a subtype of the influenza A virus that causes severe respiratory disease in birds, known as avian influenza or “bird flu”.
  • Influenza A viruses are classified by subtypes based on the properties of their surface proteins, with H5N1 being one subtype.

How widespread is it?

  • The virus has affected birds in over 80 countries, resulting in mass culling of poultry and wild birds.
  • Furthermore, it has now begun infecting mammals, including seals, sea lions, and marine mammals.
  • While humans rarely contract bird flu, those at risk are typically individuals who have extensive contact with infected birds at poultry farms.
  • Bird flu first broke out in Maharashtra in 2006.
  • The H5N1 virus led to the culling of millions of poultry so as to contain the virus. But it has resurfaced from time to time.

Impact on Animals

  • Bird Species Affected: Numerous bird species, including Great Skuas and Barnacle Geese, have experienced significant mortality rates due to H5N1.
  • Endangered Species Threatened: Endangered birds like the California condors have been severely affected, with a notable percentage of the population succumbing to the virus.
  • Mammalian Casualties: H5N1 has crossed species barriers, infecting mammals such as foxes, pumas, skunks, and marine mammals like sea lions and dolphins.
  • Devastating Consequences: Mass mortalities of marine mammals, particularly elephant seals, have been reported, raising concerns about the long-term ecological impact.

Factors behind Spread

  • Climate Change: Some scientists attribute the large-scale spread of bird flu to climate change, which alters bird behavior and facilitates the transmission of the virus.
  • Warmer Seas: Warmer sea temperatures have weakened marine mammal populations, making them more susceptible to disease outbreaks.



2015: H1N1 virus is sometimes mentioned in the news with reference to which one of the following diseases?

(a) AIDS

(b) Bird flu

(c) Dengue

(d) Swine flu


Practice MCQ:

How many of the given statements about H5N1 Virus is/are correct?

1.    It is a type of influenza virus causing highly infectious, respiratory disease in birds.

2.    It is highly contagious in humans.

3.    Seals, sea lions, and other marine mammals are vulnerable to this Virus.

Select the correct codes from below –

(a) One

(b) Two

(c) Three

(d) None

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