What is avian flu?
Birds like humans, have their own strains of the flu virus, and these normally affect only birds. The outbreak of the H5N1 strain currently making headlines first appeared in Asia in 1997. Since then, it has caused severe infection in some humans.
Is it easy to catch?
No. “Unless you're hanging out in abattoirs, it's unlikely you're going to contract avian flu,” says Conde Nast Traveler's medical adviser, Dr. Richard Daewood . Avian flu is spread by direct contact with diseased birds' uncooked flesh, feathers, blood, and droppings – none of which are a concern at any of Globe Aware's program locations. At press time, only a few cases in which the virus had passed from human to human had been confirmed, and these were within the same households; no tourists had contracted bird flu.
So why should I be concerned?
According to Dr. Daewood , you shouldn't be unless the avian flu mutates into a bug that spreads easily among humans, in which case it has as big a potential for problems in the United States as it does abroad. “I don't think anyone should change their travel plans,” Daewood says. “ But if the virus were ever to mutate, then there will be massive press, airlines are likely to allow free cancellation of flights, and the whole globe will be collectively responding.” That's when quarantines and such would go into effect.
Is it safe to travel to countries where there have been avian flu outbreaks?
At press time, U.S. health agencies have not warned against visiting any countries because of avian flu.
But they do suggest that travelers watch for updates by monitoring several federal government web sites including pandemic flu.gov, state.gov/travel, and cdc.gov/flu/ avian as well as that of the World Health Organization. They also recommend avoiding markets with live birds, poultry farms, etc.
Should I avoid eating chicken and eggs when I travel?
Not necessarily. Health experts say that avian flu is not transmitted via cooked meat, but they warn travelers to stay clear of dishes that might contain raw poultry products. Bird flu is also transmissible via uncooked eggs, which has prompted the European Union to recommend that only cooked eggs be consumed. And since even eggshells can carry the virus, wash your hands with soap after handling them.