Travelers advised to use precaution amid concern over 'lethal' bird flu strain

Published April 24, 2013

| FoxNews.com

If the recent outbreak of avian flu in China has dampened your enthusiasm for a trip to Asia, you’re not alone.

Concerns about the spread of the disease are on the rise, amid news that a man in Taiwan has been diagnosed with H7N9 bird flu and is critically ill with the first case of the disease found outside of mainland China.

The World Health Organization is warning that the disease is more lethal than previous flu strains, and that people catch the disease from birds more easily than other variants of bird flu. According to the WHO, there are 22 cases of people killed by the virus in China so far.

Already there’s been a slowdown in tourist arrivals to China, and many in the travel industry, such as airlines and hotels, are instituting preventive and surveillance measures.  

American Airlines, which flies to Shanghai and Beijing, told FoxNews.com that it's monitoring the situation closely and is working with airline industry groups and with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and WHO internationally.

&quotAs an added precaution, American has decided not to serve poultry on outbound flights from China through May. Additionally, American doesn’t serve fresh eggs on its flights,&quot Matt Miller said in an email.

In addition, Itar-Tass news agency reports that airline crews are being taught how to take temperatures of passengers on flights.

As of April 4, the WHO has recommended no travel or trade restrictions with China. The U.S. State Department has not recommended travelers avoid China, either.

But the CDC says if you’re planning on going to the Asian region, you should follow some simple public health recommendations.

Avoid domesticated birds: This might be hard in a place famous for its open-air wet markets, where butchers hang all types of raw meat products for sale. Rural areas, where farmers or families often keep poultry in their yard, should be avoided.  This also holds true for street food.  No chicken, pigeon (a local favorite) or squab on a stick.

No runny eggs: Eggshells are often contaminated with bird droppings, so consider nothing less than thoroughly cooked eggs for breakfast. Push away that over-easy or soft-boiled egg, too.

Wash your hands: This may sound basic, but it's one of the simplest and best ways to prevent infections of all kinds. If you’re using hand sanitizer, pick one with at least 60 percent alcohol.

Ask about a flu shot: Before traveling, ask your doctor about a flu shot. It won't protect you specifically from bird flu, but it may help reduce the risk of simultaneous infection with bird and human flu viruses.

Traveling by air can also run risks: In Russia, Hong Kong and Taiwan, stations have been set up to conduct medical checkups of tourist groups returning from China. Health officials are asking travelers to comply with recommendations, which may include things such as wearing masks. 

Dan Austin, owner of Austin-Lehman Adventures, an adventure tour company that leads groups in Asia, suggests to avoid large crowds and tight spaces.

"The use of a nose and mouth mask is more common with locals than travelers, but it is something you may want to consider," he says.

If you come down with flu-like symptoms after coming into contact with sick or dead birds, the CDC recommends that you immediately call a doctor. The U.S. embassy or consulate can also provide names and addresses of local doctors.

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