Bird Flu’s No Reason Not to Fly, Say Doctors

The continued spread of H7N9 bird flu has caused concern in the Chinese community about traveling to China. And the first human infection case found in Taiwan a few days ago further heightened fears.

But doctors from the Chinese American Medical Society, the Chinese American Independent Practice Association, and the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center said April 25 that there is no reason to panic. They remind people, however, to wash their hands frequently and stay away from raw foods, especially poultry.

Dr. Warren Chin of the Chinese American Medical Society assured the public that there’s no need to panic over bird flu, but to prevent infections, it is important to wash your hands, cover your mouth when sneezing and avoid undercooked poultry. (Photo via Sing Tao Daily)

Dr. Warren Chin, executive director of the Chinese American Medical Society, said many of his patients worry about H7N9, especially those from Hong Kong and Canton province (also known as Guangdong province) who survived SARS and other deadly epidemics of bird flu. And some of them are even considering canceling trips planned to visit their families in China.

However, Dr. Chin noted that there has been no transmission of the H7N9 virus from one human to another and that there is therefore no reason to panic or cancel trips to mainland China, Hong Kong or Taiwan.

According to current knowledge, H7N9 is a virus that usually transmits among birds. There has been no human transmission found. Confirmed cases of infection in China are in patients who had touched animals or stayed in the same environment as animals. For example, a pigeon in a grocery store in Shanghai was found carrying the virus.

Dr. Chin said H7N9 could be more damaging than SARS. But the authorities are still studying the possibilities of animal to human transmission and person-to-person transmission. The early symptoms of H7N9 infection are similar to typical flu symptoms, including fever and coughing. But some infections may develop into serious life-threatening diseases, such as severe pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome, septic shock and multiple organ failure.

Dr. Perry Pong, chief medical officer of the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center, said there is no infection of H7N9, neither among birds nor humans, found in the U.S. The risk for people living here of contracting the virus is very low. But many, especially Chinese New Yorkers, frequently travel between China and America. Therefore, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has sent out an advisory to doctors of public health facilities and private offices in the U.S., asking them to be on the alert for flu symptoms among people returning from affected areas.

The CDC doesn’t recommend that people delay or cancel their trips to China, but suggests such travelers take precautions, such as not touching birds or other animals and frequently washing their hands. Poultry and poultry products have to be well-cooked before consumption. Currently, the CDC has recommended to health professionals that any confirmed or probable cases of H7N9 be treated with prescription antiviral medications.

Dr. George Liu, president of the Chinese American Independent Practice Association, called on people to remain calm. He said regular medicines for the flu are also effective for H7N9, especially when taken in the early stages of the infection. Anyone who traveled to China and developed a fever, coughing and shortness of breath within 10 days should see a doctor immediately to determine whether they should take early treatments.

These doctors also remind people of common prevention tips, such as frequently washing hands, covering the mouth and nose with masks, using tissues or arms and elbows when sneezing or coughing, placing used tissues in covered garbage bins, washing hands with water or hand sanitizer after contacting respiratory secretions, and eating only well-cooked food.

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