If you travel, have a poultry farm, or just like to eat fried chicken, you may be concerned about catching the bird flu. Here are some ways to prevent the disease from coming home with you.
First, it is important to know how people become infected. As of yet, there is no person-to-person transmission of the disease, so the only way of catching the bird flu is from the birds themselves. This can include direct contact with infected birds, or coming in contact with surfaces or objects that have been contaminated by their feces. This most often occurs in areas where chickens and other poultry are raised as food sources and come in close proximity with their human caregivers. People who are involved with the slaughter, removal of feathers, butchering, or food preparation of bird for cooking are at the most risk.
The first line of defense against the bird flu is the destruction of the infected birds. Hundreds of millions of sick or potentially exposed birds have been destroyed worldwide since the first human case in 1997. Farms that have been affected by the disease were also quarantined. While the methods sometimes used to destroy the infected birds are often controversial, and may include being burned or buried alive in some areas, the Worldwide Health Organization (WHO) feels that this widespread destruction may have prevented a potential pandemic of the disease, and it is still considered the first line of defense.
Some countries have taken a stricter stance on the surveillance of poultry farms and markets. This includes stricter vaccination programs, steps to prevent the smuggling of birds, quarantine programs for new birds, and procedures for equipment that has come in contact with birds.
Other countries have taken an even stricter stance and banned or restricted the importation of birds and hatching eggs entirely from regions that have been affected by the bird flu. For example, in 2004 the United States CDC banned the importation of poultry from the majority of the Asian countries.
If you are a traveler, there are things that you can do to protect yourself as well, particularly if you must travel in a region with confirmed bird flu outbreaks. Avoidance of domesticated birds is highly recommended, including avoidance of rural areas, farms, and open-air markets. Wash your hands frequently. While this may sound like basic common sense, it is the simplest way to prevent all types of infections, including the bird flu. If soap and clean water are not always going to be available, consider carrying an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that does not require water to work. These are often better than the use of soap and water, as they kill more infectious organisms and are less damaging to the skin than frequent hand washing. Ensure that kids wash their hands frequently as well, as they are more likely to put their hands in their mouths and less likely to wash frequently. Avoid products that use raw eggs in the preparation, including mayonnaise and ice cream. Also consider getting a flu shot before you go to reduce the risk of simultaneous infection of the bird flu and regular flu virus.
While no cases of human bird flu have been linked to eating poultry, the virus has been known to survive even on frozen meat. Carefully wash cutting boards, utensils, and other surfaces that come in contact with poultry. Chicken should always be cooked thoroughly, which is when the juices run clear and the meat has an internal temperature of 180 degrees Fahrenheit.
Taking the proper precautions will help to protect you from contracting the bird flu, as well as help stop its spread should it become possible to spread it from person to person.
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