H7N9: Tips on Avoiding Infection

So there’s good news and bad news. The good news is actually really good news: as of today, we have yet to see one case of an H7N9 infected person transmitting it to another person: all 20+ cases (as of April 9) apparently got the virus from direct contact with live birds. The CDC has tested hundreds of people who had come in close contact with all of these infected people, and none of them tested positive for H7N9. That’s great news, as you can’t have a flu pandemic without person-to-person transmission.

h7n9 avian flu virusWhich brings me to the bad news: most of these infected birds are perfectly healthy, so unlike the earlier avian flu, we can’t tell which birds are infectious.

So for now, we just need to focus on two issues: avoiding contact with birds and bird products; and basic hygiene precautions for anyone who has flu-like symptoms. Let’s quickly review this, first with direct quotes from an excellent H7N9 Q&A from the WHO:

8. How can infection with influenza A(H7N9) virus be prevented?

Although both the source of infection and the mode of transmission are uncertain, it is prudent to follow basic hygienic practices to prevent infection. They include hand and respiratory hygiene and food safety measures.

Hand hygiene:
• Wash your hands before, during, and after you prepare food; before you eat; after you use the toilet; after handling animals or animal waste; when your hands are dirty; and when providing care when someone in your home is sick. Hand hygiene will also prevent the transmission of infections to yourself (from touching contaminated surfaces) and in hospitals to patients, health care workers and others.
• Wash your hands with soap and running water when visibly dirty; if not visibly dirty, wash your hands with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand cleanser.

Respiratory hygiene:
• Cover your mouth and nose with a medical mask, tissue, or a sleeve or flexed elbow when coughing or sneezing; throw the used tissue into a closed bin immediately after use; perform hand hygiene after contact with respiratory secretions.

9. Is it safe to eat meat, i.e. poultry and pork products?

Influenza viruses are not transmitted through consuming well-cooked food. Because influenza viruses are inactivated by normal temperatures used for cooking (so that food reaches 70°C in all parts— “piping” hot — no “pink” parts), it is safe to eat properly prepared and cooked meat, including from poultry and game birds.

Diseased animals and animals that have died of diseases should not be eaten.

In areas experiencing outbreaks, meat products can be safely consumed provided that these items are properly cooked and properly handled during food preparation. The consumption of raw meat and uncooked blood-based dishes is a high-risk practice and should be discouraged.

10. Is it safe to visit live markets and farms in areas where human cases have been recorded?

When visiting live markets, avoid direct contact with live animals and surfaces in contact with animals. If you live on a farm and raise animals for food, such as pigs and poultry, be sure to keep children away from sick and dead animals; keep animal species separated as much as possible; and report immediately to local authorities any cases of sick and dead animals. Sick or dead animals should not be butchered and prepared for food.

And here again is similar information from the US CDC:

  • Do not touch birds, pigs, or other animals.
    • Do not touch animals whether they are alive or dead.
    • Avoid live bird or poultry markets.
    • Avoid other markets or farms with animals (wet markets).
  • Eat food that is fully cooked.
    • Eat meat and poultry that is fully cooked (not pink) and served hot.
    • Eat hard-cooked eggs (not runny).
    • Don’t eat or drink dishes that include blood from any animal.
    • Don’t eat food from street vendors.
  • Practice hygiene and cleanliness:
    • Wash your hands often.
    • If soap and water aren’t available, clean your hands with hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol.
    • Don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. If you need to touch your face, make sure your hands are clean.
    • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
    • Try to avoid close contact, such as kissing, hugging or sharing eating utensils or cups, with people who are sick.

There’s lots of chatter and gossip out there, so stick with the facts and go straight to the source at the above WHO, the US CDC and the Chinese CDC. You can also find updated information on my hospital’s website, 

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