‘It’s still safe to go to China,’ says official about bird flu

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‘It’s still safe to go to China,’ says official about bird flu

The number of those afflicted with avian influenza is on the rise. Specifically, bird-to-human transmission in Guangdong Province and four other areas has been confirmed.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) has announced cases of the H7N9 avian influenza strain are on the rise and 12 regions in China have been designated as areas of contamination, including ten provinces and municipalities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Anhui and Jiangxi.

There are plans to include Guizhou and Sichuan to the list, where the number of patients is increasing.

In these 14 areas, 140 people were infected and 37 people have died since last October. The fatality rate in these areas is now 26.4 percent. The number of infected individuals has already surpassed last season’s count of 121.

The number of patients at this time is 58 in Jiangsu Province, 23 in Zhejiang, 22 in Guangdong, 14 in Anhui and one in Shanghai. Beijing was included as an area of contamination with the development of human transmission last April.

The H7N9 strain is genetically distinct from the South Korean strain. In China, the H5N6 strain is spreading more slowly than the H7N9 strain. Since 2014, only 17 people in eight provinces or municipalities have contracted it, resulting in 10 deaths.

Kwak Jin, head of Risk Assessment & International Cooperation in the KCDC, said that because there are two strains in Guangdong, Anhui, Hunan and Hubei, officials in these areas must exercise more caution. The KCDC is planning to designate Guangxi Province as an area of contamination due to a case of H5N6 reported in December.

Kwak added that, so far, cases of infection have involved poultry farmers and wholesalers, and that if one is traveling to China, it is best to avoid poultry farms or touching birds at traditional markets.

The Quarantine Act has recently changed, requiring one to undergo a health inspection if entering Korea from a contaminated area.

If one does not do so, he or she will be penalized 7 million won ($5,950). The fine will take effect on Feb. 3.

Q. Should one avoid going to China?

A. You don’t necessarily have to. Areas of contamination are different from “travel prohibited states.” Even if one goes to an area of contamination, one can just avoid contact with poultry and migratory birds.

Also, chicken and duck meat should be thoroughly cooked and you must wash your hands for at least 30 seconds. And then don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth.

What if one comes into contact with an avian influenza carrier?

Generally, human-to-human transmission of AI doesn’t happen. Basically, the AI virus is an affliction that only affects birds. Transmission to humans is uncommon. Human-to-human transmission is even rarer. But there was a case of H7H9 and H5N1 infecting a family and their healthcare provider.

But one won’t be infected by being in the same room, as was the case for MERS. Furthermore, there is no instance of a human transmitting the virus to birds. There has been no instance in the world of human-to-human transmission of the H5N6 AI strain prevalent in South Korea.

BY SHIN SEONG-SIK, CHU IN-YOUNG [hwang.hosub@joongang.co.kr]
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