The number of confirmed H7N9 bird flu cases in China has reached 60, resulting in 13 fatalities. The outbreak has led to several countries issuing travel advice for people visiting China.
The Public Health Agency of Canada has posted a level-two travel health notice, advising people to take necessary precaution when planning travels to China. It suggests citizens travelling to affected areas avoid contact with birds, including chickens, ducks and wild birds, as well as droppings and secretion from birds. But it has also asserted that "the risk posed to humans by avian influenza in birds is generally very low", and poultry dishes are safe to eat as long as they are cooked well.
As with any other forms of influenza, strict personal hygiene measures are essential in preventing infection, such as washing your hands frequently, using alcohol-based hand sanitiser when soap and water are not readily available, and covering your mouth when coughing and sneezing. If you develop flu-like symptoms during or after your travels, see a health care provider immediately and let them know where you have been.
Meanwhile, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in the US has also issued travel advice in light of the reported H7N9 cases. Its website lists symptoms of the infection, which include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Other potential symptoms of H7N9 are respiratory problems and severe pneumonia.
Medical experts in China only confirmed the first cases of H7N9 in China in late March, although a 27-year-old butcher from Shanghai had fallen ill and shown symptoms on February 27, and died on March 10.
The first trace of the virus was found in a pigeon sample collected in a traditional wholesale market in Shanghai, but there have not been indications that the virus can be transmitted between humans. The virus can circulate poultry stocks without making birds ill.
Several Chinese cities have suspended live poultry trading. Nanjing, capital city of Jiangsu, has banned all live poultry trade and shut down poultry markets. Hangzhou, the capital city of Zhejiang, and Shanghai have done the same.
Responding to the potential threat, Hong Kong has activated a preliminary “Alert Response Level”, and called for close monitoring of chicken farms, vaccination, culling drills, and a suspension of imports of live birds from Mainland China.
Japan's airports have put up posters at entry points warning passengers from China to seek medical help if suspected of having bird flu.
Vietnam, Taiwan and Thailand are also on alert against H7N9. The World Health Organization is closely monitoring the situation, but has not recommended any travel restrictions against China as yet.