Risk of avian flu outbreak in Singapore low: Health Ministry

PHOTO: Risk of avian flu outbreak in Singapore low: Health Ministry

SINGAPORE - The Ministry of Health's (MOH) said its current assessment of avian influenza A, also known as H7N9, is that it poses a low public health risk to Singapore.

"The risk of an outbreak in Singapore will continue to be low as long as the virus characteristics do not change. There is currently no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission of the virus," MOH said in a media statement released Tuesday.

The Ministry explained that H7N9 is transmitted to humans by direct exposure to infected live or dead poultry or birds, or indirectly through exposure to environments contaminated by infected poultry or birds, such as in a farmyard or market setting.

There is no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission of the virus.

Singapore does not import live or raw poultry from China, where most of the recent cases of avian flu have been reported. "Only processed poultry products which have been heat-treated to eliminate bird flu virus are allowed to be imported from accredited establishments in China," the Ministry said.

MOH cautioned that there may be increased circulation of the influenza virus and therefore more human cases reported overseas in the coming months. This is due to the colder weather, as well as increased poultry production and people travelling for the upcoming festive season.

MOH advised members of the public not to be alarmed by reports of H7N9 cases overseas.

The Ministry said it is in close contact with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and their counterparts internationally, and will continue to monitor the situation.

"Our hospitals remain vigilant to test for H7N9 and other avian influenza where clinically indicated, such as in patients with serious respiratory illness and a compatible travel history. All suspected and confirmed cases will be isolated.

"In addition, the Ministry will conduct contact tracing and all close contacts will be placed under surveillance if a case is detected," MOH said.

To reduce the risk of exposure to H7N9, Singaporeans travelling to affected areas are advised to maintain vigilance and adopt the following general health precautions when overseas:

> Observe good personal hygiene at all times;

> Practise frequent hand washing (e.g. before handling food or eating, after going to toilet, or when hands are dirtied by respiratory secretion after coughing or sneezing);

> Avoid close contact with persons suffering from acute respiratory infections (e.g. someone who is coughing);

> Avoid contact with poultry, birds and other wild animals, and visiting live poultry markets. If contact has been made, thoroughly wash hands with soap;

> Adopt good food safety and hygiene practices and avoid consuming under-cooked meats and eggs; and

> Wear a mask and seek medical attention promptly if you become unwell with fever and cough while travelling in or within two weeks of being in any of the areas, and inform the doctor of the areas that you have travelled to.