Avian influenza viruses normally circulate among birds. The available information strongly indicates that most known human H7N9 infections result from direct contact with infected poultry, or indirect contact with infected poultry (for example, by visiting wet markets and having contact with environments where infected poultry have been kept or slaughtered). Because H7N9 infections do not cause severe disease in poultry, this infection can spread “silently” among poultry. Under such circumstances, the exact exposure for individual cases of human infection may be difficult to establish.
Patients with influenza infection will usually present with sudden onset of high fever and cough. The symptoms can then progress to pneumonia or acute respiratory distress syndrome or shock. Any patient with a possible contact or travel history presenting with sudden onset of high fever and cough should seek medical consult immediately and alert the doctor. There is currently no travel advice against delaying travel or cancelling travel to China or Hong Kong. However, it is advisable to take precautions such as not touching birds and eating fully cooked poultry when travelling. It is also not advisable to visit wet markets when in China or Hong Kong.
Protect yourself with the following measures:
1. General and respiratory hygiene
a) Emphasis on general cleanliness.
b) Wash your hands often.
c) Use hand sanitisers if soap is not available.
2. Respiratory hygiene
a) Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve when coughing or sneezing to reduce transmission of air droplets.
b) Avoid close contact, such as kissing, hugging or sharing utensils with people who are sick.
3. Food hygiene
a) Do not touch animals whether they are alive or dead.
b) Avoid live bird or poultry farms.
c) Eat meat and poultry that is fully cooked (not pink) and served hot.
d) Eat hard-cooked eggs (not runny).
e) Do not eat or drink dishes that include blood from any animal.
f) Do not eat food from street vendors.
4. Maintain a high level of alertness
a) Consult a doctor if you develop flu symptoms, especially with related travel history.
5. VACCINATE yourself against seasonal influenza
a) The importance of this cannot be overemphasised.
b) Although there is no vaccine to protect against H7N9 currently, you can still get yourself protected against the common circulating strains of influenza and help the doctor to narrow the diagnosis.
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