iJET Travel Risk Management (iJET) is advising travelers to 11 Asian countries of the dangers posed by avian influenza. Large outbreaks of the disease, which can be fatal in humans and birds, have been reported in several Asian countries, and at least 12 people have died from the disease in Vietnam and Thailand. In a Jan. 28 Special Report, iJET detailed the potential for an avian flu pandemic among people. Copies of the report are available by calling iJET Customer Service (1-877-606-4538).
iJET categorizes the current risk to travelers to Asia as low, but cautions that conditions in Asia are optimal for the virus to evolve and trigger a flu pandemic. According to the report, avian influenza could spread faster and kill more people than SARS did last year, because avian flu’s mortality rate and contagiousness are probably greater than those for SARS.
iJET has issued frequent Travel Alert updates on the situation, and the company is alerting travelers to Cambodia, Myanmar, China, Hong Kong, Japan, Laos, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia of the growing threat. iJET advises travelers to the region to:
Avoid poultry farms and public markets with live chickens or ducks.
Avoid contact with animal excrement at areas including farms, parks and golf courses.
Avoid contact with any surfaces that appear contaminated with feces from animals.
Consider carrying a supply of prescription anti-influenza medication (either oseltamivir or zanamivir) that is active against influenza A. These are active against human influenza A and may be active against the avian influenza A virus as well. Anti-influenza medication may be used for treatment if given within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms, or prophylactically, if contact is anticipated with persons potentially ill with influenza.
Get an influenza vaccine. Although the vaccine will not protect against avian influenza, it will protect against more common strains of influenza that are circulating.
Eat only well-cooked meals, served hot. Heat destroys the virus and fully cooked chicken and hard-boiled eggs should be safe.
Try to eat in establishments with good food handling practices.
Always practice good hand hygiene.
Authorities in China, South Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia, and Japan have confirmed deaths in poultry due to avian influenza, and the disease is suspected in poultry deaths in several other countries, including Myanmar and Laos. There is no definitive evidence to date of human-to-human transmission, but WHO authorities are monitoring for mutations in the virus that could create a public health hazard by making human-to-human transmission more likely. Scientists believe all human cases thus far have been acquired through close contact with poultry or their excrement.