New Strain of Avian Flu in China (H7N9) — Update

The number of cases of the new bird flu H7N9 in China has reached 105 with 20 deaths. Approximately 12 people have recovered after being hospitalized for treatment. Many remain hospitalized in serious or critical condition. For the first time, a new case was diagnosed in a province (the Northeastern Chinese province of Shandong) other than the originally affected areas of Shanghai, Beijing, Anhui, Jiangsu, Henan, and Zhejiang Provinces.

There is still no convincing evidence of any person-to-person spread. Every time a new case has been found, all of their personal and family contacts are found to be healthy. It remains unclear how roughly half of the reported cases became infected. The other half had some level of contact with poultry. However, tens of thousands of tests of poultry have been almost totally negative. So the whereabouts of this virus in nature also remains a mystery in spite of major investigation by Chinese and international experts.

Travellers to China

The World Health Organization has not issued any travel restrictions for visiting China. However, if you are going to China, you should keep a couple of things in mind:

  • The risk of becoming infected with this virus is obviously very, very low. So far there are only 105 known cases among the millions of people in China.
  • There is no risk in eating fully cooked chicken or other poultry. The heat from thorough cooking kills both bacteria and viruses.
  • It would be prudent to avoid visiting live poultry markets until the source of this virus is fully clarified.
  • The usual precautions for avoiding general influenza infection, such as frequent hand washing and maintaining distance from someone with a respiratory illness, should reduce the already low risk.