Many of us would remember of how scary the term “Bird Flu” was back in 2003/2004. Everyone was basically freaking out over eating chickens and travelling to other countries with the virus. And the fears are probably justified because the virus has killed 379 people since 2003, and has a mortality rate of 59%!
And though it’s been quite a number of years, it was recently reported that the flu is back in Malaysia!
For those of you who need a refresher, bird flu (or avian flu) refers to a type of virus that you get from birds (more specifically, the influenza virus), and can actually come in various mutations. The one that people most often refer to is bird flu codename: H5N1.
So far the Kelantan Veterinary Services Department has confirmed that 28 locations in 6 areas across Kelantan have been confirmed to have Bird Flu. And while (surprisingly) there have been no human deaths so far in Malaysia, the same cannot be said about birds.
“The total poultry disposed of so far is 33,153 and 13,342 eggs, while for monitoring activities, a total of 3,127 samples had been taken from 525 owners.” – Kelantan Veterinary Services Department in a statement, as quoted by The Malay Mail Online
There were pretty much cases every year between 2004-2007, so the last time Malaysia had to deal with bird flu was actually in 2007. This was evident in 2008 when Singapore, who had banned chicken and egg imports from Malaysia, started to look into resuming the imports once again. And 10 years on, some of us would have thought that the disease just disappeared (in fact, thankfully no Malaysian has ever died from the virus). But the thing is, bird flu didn’t die out, it was active throughout the years.
But how did it come back to Malaysia? Well, it seems that it’s back because of a certain hobby of people in Kelantan.
It’s because people like to play with their birds
Well, at least that’s the theory that the gomen has right now la.
“We see a similarity between these cases and those in 2004 which also occurred in Kelantan where roosters infected with H5N1 were involved in cockfighting at the border areas.” – Dr Kamaruddin Md Isa, director-general of the Veterinary Services Department, as quoted by Free Malaysia Today
And it’s not like these birds just magically had the virus, our Health Minister, Dr Subramaniam has said that they’re looking into the possibility that the virus could have come from Thailand (Kelantan is right beside them after all). But that may not be a good enough explanation at the moment because while countries like Cambodia, Vietnam, and even the USA have recently had a bird flu outbreak, Thailand is trying to capitalise on the situation.
But regardless of the source, it’s clear that at the moment that Kelantan is the only state at the moment with a bird flu problem. And some of us are probably trying to avoid Kelantan chickens already.
Oh no, how to tell if my chickens are from Kelantan or not?
So yes, we’ll admit that when we first started writing this, we thought to try and find out where Kelantan’s chickens were going to. One thing we were able to determine is that they don’t go to Singapore la, so Singapore hasn’t banned chicken and egg imports like they did last time.
But aside from that, it was actually really difficult to tell where Kelantan chickens go to (this writer had the help of 2 interns but still couldn’t pinpoint where the chickens went to). But in the midst of looking we found that maybe we don’t need to be too afraid because…
“So far, the H5N1 virus had only affected kampung chickens, while commercial chickens are still free from the virus.
People do not have to worry about eating commercial chicken.” – Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek, Minister of Agriculture and Agro-based Industry, as quoted by Astro Awani
He went on to explain that Kelantan itself imports 70% of its chicken supply, and 100% of its eggs. Only 30% of their chicken comes from local breeders, and he claimed that these 30% were from outside the bird flu affected areas. Still some of us may still feel a bit wary not being able to tell. The chicken and duck population does make up 0.5% of the total population in Malaysia, so there’s still a chance that we get infected chickens right?
Well if you want to be really, really safe…
Kill the virus before it kills you…by properly cooking your chicken
So it seems that even if you have raw chicken that is carrying the H5N1 virus, you don’t need to panic just yet. You can still get rid of bird flu (and actually many other viruses) with the correct temperature.
“According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) poultry are safe if thoroughly cooked, i.e. at temperatures above 70 degrees Celsius because the H5N1 virus is destroyed at that temperature.” – Health Director-General Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, as quoted by The Malay Mail Online
In fact you should already be cooking your chicken at 70 degrees Celsius anyway because it’s already the minimum temperature to safely destroy bacteria. So if you get bird flu from cooked chicken, the chicken may not have been properly cooked in the first place and might want to get yourself checked for other diseases as well.
As for eggs, it seems that you might wanna stay away from half-boiled eggs until the virus dies down. This article mentions that cooking an egg until the whites and yolks are firm would kill the virus. And for all other things, wash your hands for about 20 seconds before AND after handling raw chicken or eggs, and clean your utensils properly.
We should also mention that while 30k plus chickens have been killed so far, that doesn’t mean all 30k chickens had the virus. They were culled as more like a precautionary measure.
We’re still quite safe for now, but the virus is still evolving
We mentioned earlier that the bird flu that’s currently in Malaysia is the one known as H5N1, but the thing is there are so many variations to flu (or the influenza virus). H5N1 was contained rather easily because it could only spread from bird to bird, or bird to human. It CANNOT transmit from person to person, so by culling birds alone, you could very quickly stem the spread of the disease.
This is different from another influenza virus that hit the world a few years back; swine flu or codename H1N1. Also from the influenza virus family, it was a whole lot deadlier simply because the virus could be transferred from person to person. While bird flu has recorded 379 deaths, swine flu has 18,500 CONFIRMED deaths, with some saying that the number of deaths could actually be 10–15 times higher!
So we should be thankful that bird flu isn’t as bad right? Well yes, for now, but that may change in the future.
Back in 2013, China was hit with a bird flu outbreak once again, but this time it wasn’t bird flu codename H5N1, but bird flu codename H7N9. Since 2013, 316 people have died from H7N9, but probably the scariest thing about this virus was the report that one woman in 2013 may have gotten the illness from taking care of her sick father.
Thankfully, since then there have been no further updates on whether or not bird flu can actually pass from person to person.
“No one knows whether the virus will evolve into a pandemic strain, but flu viruses constantly change.
Certainly, multiple mutations need to be accumulated for the H5N1 virus to become a pandemic strain.” – Yoshiro Kawaoka, researcher at University of Wisconsin-Madison, as quoted by Live Science
So we do still need to be vigilant. Our Health Ministry has said that if you have bird flu symptoms, do get yourself checked up. Coincidentally, our writer, Badd, was also recently suspected of having bird flu, but thankfully the doctor cleared him of it. So while it may just be a normal flu, at this point in time, maybe it’s better to be safe than sorry.