Avian or Bird Flu is a type of influenza virus. Influenza viruses can infect several animal species, including birds, pigs, horses, seals and whales. Influenza viruses that infect birds are called â€œavian influenza viruses.â€ Wild birds are considered the natural hosts for influenza virus. Avian influenza viruses do not usually directly infect humans.
Human infections with H5N1 viruses, or bird flu, are rare, but have also occurred in several countries since 2003. The Center for Disease Control has not yet warned against traveling to any of the countries that have reported cases of the bird flu. This could change if human-to-human transmission becomes more common as bird flu evolves and if the virus mutates. There is no evidence that this has occurred at the present time. However, experts recommend you take precautions when traveling to reduce the risk of infection.
Before traveling internationally to an area affected by H5N1 avian influenza, be sure you are up to date with all your routine vaccinations, and see your doctor or health-care provider, ideally 4-6 weeks before travel, to get any additional vaccination medications or information you may need.
When planning a trip, it would be prudent to assemble a travel health kit containing basic first aid and medical supplies. Be sure to include a thermometer and alcohol-based hand gel for hand hygiene.
In addition, you should identify in-country healthcare resources in advance in case of an emergency. It is also sensible to check your health insurance plan or get additional insurance that covers medical evacuation in case you become sick.
During travel to countries that have reported outbreaks, you should follow several safety measures to avoid infection. For example, avoid all direct contact with poultry, including touching well-appearing, sick, or dead chickens and ducks. Also, avoid places such as poultry farms and bird markets where live poultry are raised or kept, and avoid handling surfaces contaminated with poultry feces or secretions.
One of the most important preventive practices is careful and frequent hand washing. Cleaning your hands often with soap and water removes potentially infectious material from your skin and helps prevent disease transmission. Waterless alcohol-based hand gels may be used when soap is not available and hands are not visibly soiled.
Proper food handling and preparation can help you remain healthy also. All foods from poultry, including eggs and poultry blood should be cooked thoroughly. Egg yolks should not be runny or liquid. Because influenza viruses are destroyed by heat, the cooking temperature for poultry meat should be 74Â°C (165Â°F).
If you become sick with symptoms such as a fever accompanied by a cough, sore throat, or difficulty breathing or if you develop any illness that requires prompt medical attention, a U.S. consular officer can assist you in locating medical services and informing your family or friends. It is important that you inform your health-care provider of any possible exposures to avian influenza, and cease traveling until all symptoms are gone.
You should still remain cautious when you return home from traveling. Experts recommend that you monitor your heath for ten days. If you become ill with a fever plus a cough, sore throat, or trouble breathing during this ten-day period, consult a health-care provider. Before you visit your doctorâ€™s office you should advise them of your symptoms, where you traveled, and if you have had direct contact with poultry or close contact with a severely ill person. This way, he or she can be aware that you have traveled to an area reporting avian influenza and insure that others are not infected.
Finally, do not travel while ill, unless you are seeking medical care. Limiting contact with others as much as possible can help prevent the spread of an infectious illness.
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