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What is Bird Flu H7N9 ?  Your Health is our Priority
Should Travelers Worry ?
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According to travelreadymd.com

The bird flu is back in the news, but there is a new twist: the chickens which are the 
likely source of the illness are not sick.

Over 125 people have been sickened and 26 have died throughout eastern China. All 
this has travelers wondering what is bird flu and how can travelers avoid it?

What is bird flu H7N9?
Bird flu is a viral repiratory infection of birds which sometimes infect people. We are 
not exactly sure how this new H7N9 strain infects people, but experts think that 
close contact with poultry is how most people become sick.

New Discovery
In mid-March 2013, in the same section of Shanghai, two men were hospitalized with 
severe pneumonia and quickly died.  The astute doctors thought this was odd so 
they collected samples that were quickly sent off to a special laboratory that monitors 
for emergence of new diseases.

New technology allowed the laboratory to quickly identity the exact genetic sequence 
of this new strain of bird flu, including the mutation that caused the virus to become 
aggressive.  They were surprised to learn that H7N9 was the problem since prior to 
this event it had never caused infection in humans.  Scientists were also able to 
determine that this strain of bird flu can be treated with oseltamivir (Tamiflu).

Where did the H7N9 bird flu come from?
Experts were suspicious that the strain was transmitted from domestic birds, but 
they didn’t know which types of birds or what advice to give to people.

After careful sleuthing, scientists have determined that many of the people infected 
with H7N9 strain of bird flu had been to live animal markets within 10 days of 
becoming ill. However, since the animals on the farms and in the markets appeared 
well it wasn’t apparent how people actually caught the infection. Scientist literally 
swabbed the throats of chickens, ducks, quail, and pigeons in the markets. That is 
how they discovered that local chickens and pigeons were the suspected source of 
the new H7N9 bird flu.

This is good news because it can be contained by closing the live poultry markets, 
vaccinating poultry, and culling the flocks. In addition infected carrier pigeons which 
may have contributed to the spread of bird flu have been grounded–all bird races 
have been canceled in Beijing indefinitely and pigeon owners have been instructed to 
keep their birds in cages.

It is not surprising that bird flu is spread from chickens to humans; what is new is this 
particular strain seems to be more aggressive in it’s ability to affect humans. An 
unusually high number of people infect have died (about 20%). In fact there is 
suspicion that limited human-to-human transmission has occurred in close family 
members of people sickened with H7N9.

Fortunately, No sustained human-to-human transmission has occurred. In other 
words, an outbreak cased by spread between people has not happened. This is 
good news for travelers.

What should travelers do about bird flu?
How can travelers to China best protect themselves from bird flu?

Avoid direct contact with animals and their droppings.

Do not touch animals (live or dead).
Do not visit live animal markets in China.
Wash your hands often.

Keep your hands away from your face, and wash them frequently.
Carry and use hand sanitizer since it can be difficult to find places to wash up when 
traveling.
Cough into a tissue or your elbow, this avoids contaminating your hands with germs.
Eat only well-cooked food.  

Only eat meats which are no longer pink.
Eggs should be fully cooked (not runny).
Avoid eating chicken since it can be difficult to be sure it was thoroughly cooked by 
simply looking at your food. In reality, this may be difficult due to language barriers 
and the propensity to use chicken parts in many dishes to provide flavor.
See your doctor if you are ill.

If you become ill with a cough, fever, etc within 10 days of visiting China see you 
doctor.
Cover your nose and mouth with a mask until seen by your doctor to prevent any 
possible spread of disease.
Rapid flu tests may not detect Influenza A(H7N9). If you become ill with a respiratory 
illness after return from China you should discuss with your doctor whether to begin 
antiviral medications while awaiting test results from a specialty lab.
Travelers leaving China should be aware they may have difficulty visiting other 
countries if they are sick. You may be subject to surveillance for illness and denied 
entry if thought to be ill with fever and/or respiratory symptoms. Your local travel 
medicine doctor can assist you in sorting out the health regulations.

Many people are worried by the frequent media updates regarding bird flu H7N9. You 
should realize that the increased media coverage of this outbreak is due to increased 
information from the Chinese government, and not an increase imminent danger to 
you, the traveler. This is due, in part, to the increase in transparency by the Chinese 
government who is providing frequent, informative press releases. It is refreshing a 
departure from the secrecy in the handling of the 2003 SARS outbreak for which the 
Chinese government was widely criticized.

Bottom line: you don’t need to be alarmed by all the media attention to bird flu, but 
be grateful that the international authorities are working together and sharing what 
information is known about this outbreak.

The risk to travelers, at this point in time is small, as long as you avoid contact with 
poultry, you should be able to proceed wth your travel plans.