Visitors to China urged to be vigilant over avian flu

PHOTO: Visitors to China urged to be vigilant over avian flu

VISITORS to China were advised to maintain vigilance by the Ministry of Health (MOH) yesterday in the midst of the avian influenza outbreak there.

It told travellers to adopt general health precautions, such as frequent hand-washing and good food safety and hygiene practices.

They were also urged to avoid contact with poultry, birds and wild animals - including visits to live poultry markets.

Latest figures from the World Health Organisation show there were 137 cases of bird flu and 45 deaths in China between February and October last year.

The MOH said factors behind the figure could include the increased circulation of the virus during winter in northern areas, growing poultry production and the mass movements of people during the festive seasons.

Although the advisory did not specify other countries, Vietnam yesterday reported its first death from the virus - also known as H7N9 - since a four-year-old child died last April.

News service AFP said a 52-year-old man from southern Binh Phuoc province died on Saturday after receiving treatment in Ho Chi Minh City. Demand for poultry in Vietnam is expected to surge ahead of next week's lunar new year festival Tet.

However the Health Ministry reassured the public that the virus "poses a low public health risk in Singapore... as long as the virus characteristics do not change".

Singapore does not import live or raw poultry from China. Only processed poultry products which have been heat-treated to eliminate the virus are brought in.

The H7N9 virus is often transmitted to humans by direct exposure to infected live or dead poultry - or indirectly through exposure to environments contaminated by infected poultry or birds, such as in farmyards or markets.

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