Press release

Travel safely this Chinese New Year

PHE and NaTHNaC remind UK travellers going to Asia to avoid contact with live poultry or wild birds and practise good hand hygiene.

Public Health England (PHE) and the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) are reminding travellers from the UK going to Asia to celebrate the Chinese New Year (19 February), that avian influenza A (H7N9) is circulating in birds in parts of China and risk of exposure to the virus can be reduced through simple precautions such as avoiding contact with live poultry or wild birds, avoiding uncooked bird products and practising good hand hygiene.

As of 10 February 2015, 571 confirmed cases of human infection with avian influenza A (H7N9) virus have been reported. Since November 2013 there has been widespread reporting of avian influenza A (H7N9) in humans and birds in mainland China; Hong Kong SAR and Taiwan have also reported cases in people who had travelled to an area of China where H7N9 is known to be circulating.

Dr Richard Pebody, head of the respiratory diseases department at PHE said:

Overall, the public health risk from avian influenza A (H7N9) virus remains very low. Travellers who become ill with respiratory symptoms within 10 days of a trip to China, (including Hong Kong SAR and Taiwan) should seek medical advice from their GP or NHS 111 and mention your travel history.

Dr Dipti Patel, joint director at NaTHNaC said:

Although the risk to UK residents travelling to the affected areas is very low, those who are planning to visit China, Hong Kong SAR or Taiwan, should minimise their exposure to birds and it is recommended that the following precautions are taken:

  • avoid visiting live bird and animal markets (including ‘wet’ markets) and poultry farms
  • avoid contact with surfaces contaminated with animal faeces
  • avoid untreated bird feathers and other animal and bird waste
  • do not eat or handle undercooked or raw poultry, egg or duck dishes
  • do not pick up or touch dead or dying birds
  • do not attempt to bring any poultry products back to the UK
  • exercise good personal hygiene with regular hand washing with soap and use of alcohol-based hand rubs

Birds can carry a wide variety of avian flu viruses and most of these do not cause human illness. The 2 types of avian flu viruses currently causing the greatest concern for human health are H5N1 and H7N9. These infections are typically seen in people who have had close contact with birds. To date there has been no evidence of sustained human-to-human spread of avian flu viruses.

Notes to editors

  • Avian influenza is a disease of birds caused by influenza viruses closely related to human influenza viruses. Transmission to humans in close contact with poultry or other birds occurs rarely and only with some strains of avian influenza. The potential for transformation of avian influenza into a form that both causes severe disease in humans and spreads easily from person to person is a great concern for world health.

  • For more travel health information refer to the country specific pages from the NaTHNaC website.

  • Read the avian influenza risk assessment.

  • NaTHNaC is commissioned by the Public Health England and hosted by University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. It works in partnership with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, the Hospital for Tropical Diseases, the Department of Health and Public Health England to achieve its objective of improving standards in travel medicine and advice.

  • Public Health England exists to protect and improve the nation’s health and wellbeing, and reduce health inequalities. It does this through world-class science, knowledge and intelligence, advocacy, partnerships and the delivery of specialist public health services. PHE is an operationally autonomous executive agency of the Department of Health. Website: www.gov.uk/phe. Twitter: @PHE_uk, Facebook: www.facebook.com/PublicHealthEngland

Photo by Ken Funakoshi. Used under Flickr Creative Commons.

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