N95 respirator maskA new version of the avian (bird) flu with characteristics not previously seen has emerged in China over the past several weeks. The avian flu typically causes both animals and humans infected to be quite ill, while the new H7N9 strain appears to be more benign. Of the 82 documented cases as of mid-April, 17 have died, compared with mortality rates exceeding 50 percent with other strains such as H5N1. In addition, although there

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is no evidence yet of human to human transmissions, a growing number of people with no history of direct contact with birds are being infected. While most of the cases originated in Shanghai, the virus appears to be extending out from eastern China to Beijing and the central province of Henan. The main question for the World Health Organization’s epidemiological team is “how is the virus spreading?” One theory is that the virus is infecting other birds such as pigeons and bramblings, which in turn infect humans through airborne fecal matter. Another is by inhalation of “wet dust” from poultry handling facilities, but the possibility of human to human transmission still looms. Because of this uncertainty, it is recommended that the H7N9 virus should be treated like all others. Use universal precautions (see below), avoid unnecessary travel to regions where the virus is endemic, and consider the use of an N95 respirator mask in open, public places frequented by birds of any type or large crowds. These universal precautions are everyday actions that can help prevent the spread of germs that cause respiratory illnesses like influenza. Take these steps to protect your health: • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective. • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it. • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way. • Try to avoid close contact with sick people.

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About The Author

Frank Gillingham, M.D. serves as Chief Medical Director for HTH Worldwide. Frank has led HTH Worldwide's international business development efforts in Europe and Canada and has been a guest speaker at international business conferences and has authored a series of articles on travel medicine, including pieces on travel information available on the Internet and the role of physicians working with travel insurers. Frank is a Board-Certified Internist and Emergency Medicine Specialist. He is also a private emergency physician in Southern California and a former emergency department director and member of the UCLA emergency department staff. Frank completed residency training at Los Angeles County/USC Medical Center, received his M.D. from Albert Einstein College of Medicine and his B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania .

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