Posted by: mkirschmd | April 26, 2010

Are Travel Vaccinations ‘for the Birds’?

Hopefully, all Americans who are advised to receive the seasonal flu and H1N1 (formerly known as swine flu) vaccines, have done so.  There is another flu virus that is a potential threat to international travelers.  Is ‘Bird Flu’ on your itinerary?

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What is ‘Bird Flu’?

Avian Influenza H5N1, or bird flu, typically infects birds and poultry.  However, international travelers are at risk of contracting the disease, which has a high mortality rate.  International travelers should consult with a travel physicians for advice on how to reduce your risk.   Unlike hepatitis, typhoid, meningitis and yellow fever, there is no commercially available avian flu vaccine/ Resistance to typical anti-flu medications is common. Most human cases of the disease occur from contact with live infected birds and poultry, or their droppings.  Human to human transmission is rare. 

 Where are the ‘High Risk’ Regions?

A particularly severe strain of bird flu has been reported in Asia, Africa, Europe and the Middle East, which has infected humans.  Since last year, bird flu outbreaks have been reported in Cambodia, China, Egypt, Vietnam and Indonesia.  Just this month, Egyptian health authorities reported a fatal case of bird flu in an 18 year-old female, who had contact with infected poultry.

What Precautions Should Travelers Take?

  • Avoid poultry farms and contact with live animal markets.  Do not regard these sites as ‘petting zoos’.
  • Wash hands with soap and water regularly
  • Use alcohol based sanitizers if soap and water are not available.
  • Make sure that all poultry and eggs are thoroughly cooked.  If the eggs are runny, then cry ‘fowl’!
  • All surfaces that have been in contact with raw poultry, such as utensils and cutting boards, should be scrubbed clean with soap and hot water.
  • Do not bring home feather products for souvenirs from high risk regions. Buy a postcard instead.
  • If a traveler develops flu-like symptoms in a high risk bird flu region, seek medical attention. 

Many diseases abroad can be prevented by effective travel vaccinations.  Other diseases, such as malaria, traveler’s diarrhea, norovirus and bird flu have no available travel vaccines.   This means that travelers need other strategies to stay safe to make sure that bird flu is kept securely in its cage.



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