LITTLE ROCK — A rare strain of bird flu has infected more than two dozen people in China, killing nine. With no vaccine to check the advance of avian Influenza H7N9, avoidance and good hygiene are the best ways to prevent an infection of this or any other disease, said Lisa Washburn, assistant professor-health, for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.
“This is the first time the H7N9 bird flu subtype has been found in people,” she said. According to the World Health Organization, no person-to-person spread of the virus has occurred with the recent outbreak in China. However, Public health officials are concerned about the potential for pandemic if the virus mutates, making it capable of spreading from person to person.
“The virus has only been found in China and has not cropped up in the U.S.,” Washburn said. “Currently, there is no vaccine to prevent H7N9 and the seasonal flu vaccine will not protect against the bird flu virus.
“Those traveling to China should follow good hand hygiene and food safety practices and avoid contact with animals,” she said. “The best way to prevent infection with avian influenza viruses is to avoid sources of exposure.”
During past outbreaks of bird flu, contact with infected birds caused illness in some people. Eating poultry or eggs not well cooked has also caused past infections. The current H7N9 outbreak in China is under investigation, and it is unknown whether the virus can be transmitted through food sources.
Bird flu symptoms include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Infection with the new virus has resulted in severe respiratory illness and, in some cases, death.
Consumers can protect themselves from illness all year long, not just during a high-profile outbreak, by following a few simple practices. Washburn suggests:
• Make sure poultry products are fully cooked, including eggs.
• Wash your hands often. Be sure to use soap or hand sanitizer.
• Keep your hands away from your face. If they need to be close to your face, make sure you keep your hands clean.
• When coughing or sneezing, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve — not your hands.
For more information on healthy living, visit www.uaex.edu or contact your county extension office.