- H5N1 Avian influenza is primarily a disease of birds and rarely causes infections in humans and other mammals.
- Since March 2013, Chinese authorities have confirmed cases of strain (H7N9) avian influenza in China.
- One case of strain (H7N9) avian influenza in Taiwan has been confirmed in a person who had visited China.
- The risk to humans is low and there is no reason to defer travel to a country affected by avian influenza.
- Human cases of avian influenza occur as a result of exposure to infected birds, usually domestic poultry. There is currently no evidence of efficient spread of avian influenza from person to person.
Avian influenza outbreak
Chinese authorities have confirmed cases in humans of strain (H7N9) avian influenza in China in March 2013. One case of strain (H7N9) avian influenza has been confirmed in Taiwan in a person who had visited China.
The Department of Health and Ageing has published advice for Australians in China or returning to Australia from China with flu-like symptoms, as well as measures to avoid contact with the virus.
Since November 2003, the World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed more than 500 human cases from avian influenza in Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Djibouti, Egypt, Indonesia (including Bali), Iraq, Laos, Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan, Thailand, Turkey and Vietnam. The WHO has confirmed more than 300 deaths from this disease.
In August 2011, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) issued a report urging heightened surveillance against a possible major resurgence of avian influenza. For more information see the FAO avian influenza website.
The WHO has not advised against travel to any of the affected countries. Current information on human health risks from avian influenza can be found on the WHO website.
Avian influenza amongst birds
H5N1 has affected birds in Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe
For a list of countries in which outbreaks of avian influenza amongst birds have been reported, see the website of the World Organisation for Animal Health.
Reducing the risk of infection
Avian influenza is primarily a disease of birds and does not spread easily to humans. The number of human cases of avian influenza infection around the world has been small. People are most at risk of contracting avian influenza if they have close contact with infected birds, their faeces or body fluids.
Australians travelling to areas affected by avian influenza can reduce their risk of infection by:
- avoiding situations where they may come into contact with infected birds, including live bird markets;
- washing hands thoroughly after contact with infected or potentially infected birds, their faeces or body fluids.
- ensuring all poultry and eggs are cooked thoroughly before eating (proper cooking destroys the virus in poultry and eggs); and
- ensuring all uncooked poultry and eggs are handled hygienically with careful attention to hand washing after handling.
There is some evidence that mammals such as cats and dogs can be infected by avian influenza. As these, and other animals, can harbour a range of infectious diseases it is good personal hygiene to avoid the secretions and excretions of animals, especially in affected areas, and promptly wash hands after any contact with animals.
Advice for Australians
Australians intending to travel to avian influenza affected areas should discuss the risk of avian influenza with their doctor as part of their routine pre-travel health checks.
The Department of Health and Ageing (DOHA) advises Australians and Australian businesses who reside and/or operate in an avian influenza affected area for an extended period to consider, as a precautionary measure, having access to influenza antiviral medicine. Medical advice should be sought before antiviral medicines are taken.
There is no vaccine available to travellers to protect against avian influenza.
Australians should familiarise themselves with the advice regarding personal protective and infection-control measures provided on DOHA's Pandemic Influenza website.
Answers to frequently asked questions about avian influenza are available from the Department of Health and Ageing's website or by phoning the department's Public Health Information Line on 1800 004 599 between 8:30am to 5pm Monday to Friday.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in conjunction with the Department of Health and Ageing continues to monitor avian influenza including for any implications for overseas travel.