WHO warns tourists to avoid wet markets to avert human bird flu risk

New Delhi, March 1 (IANS) Tourists visiting countries with bird flu cases should avoid farms, wet markets and any areas where animals are slaughtered to ward off risk of any spillover, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned.

This comes after an 11-year-old girl in Cambodia died after contracting the avian influenza A (H5N1) virus. While her infected father remains in isolation in hospital, 11 other close contacts have tested negative, the WHO said in a recent report.

The global health agency noted that although research on the two human cases is pending, available epidemiological and virological evidence suggest that current bird flu viruses have not acquired the ability of sustained transmission among humans, and thus the risk of “human-to-human spread is low”.

Yet it stated that “further human cases can be expected”.

“Whenever avian influenza viruses are circulating in poultry, there is a risk for sporadic infection or small clusters of human cases due to exposure to infected poultry or contaminated environments.

“Travellers to countries with known outbreaks of animal influenza should avoid farms, contact with animals in live animal markets, entering areas where animals may be slaughtered, or contact with any surfaces that appear to be contaminated with animal faeces,” the UN body said.

According to the WHO, from 2003 to 2023, a total of 873 human cases of infection with influenza A (H5N1) and 458 deaths have been reported globally from 21 countries.

In Cambodia, the two cases of H5N1 are the first to be reported since 2014. In December 2003, Cambodia reported an outbreak of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) H5N1 for the first time affecting wild birds. Since then, and until 2014, human cases due to poultry-to-human transmission have been sporadically reported in Cambodia.

The WHO advised regular hand washing and good food safety and food hygiene practices.

However, it warned against the application of any travel or trade restrictions to countries with a bird flu outbreak.

It stressed the importance of global surveillance to detect and monitor virological, epidemiological, and clinical changes associated with emerging or circulating influenza viruses that may affect human (or animal) health and timely virus sharing for risk assessment.

The agency also suggested people in close contact with poultry to get vaccinated against seasonal human flu, to reduce the risk that H5N1 could recombine with a human avian virus.



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