- Avian influenza is primarily a disease of birds and rarely causes infections in humans and other mammals.
- Since March 2013, Chinese authorities have confirmed human cases of avian influenza (H7N9) infection in China.
- Avian influenza (H7N9) has also been confirmed outside China, however all of these cases had visited China before becoming ill.
- The risk of human infections 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 ongoing, efficient or sustained spread of avian influenza from person to person.
Avian influenza amongst humans
Chinese authorities have confirmed cases in humans of avian influenza A (H7N9) in China since March 2013. The Australian Department of Health has published recommended measures to avoid contact with the virus and specific advice for travellers returning from China who develop flu-like symptoms.
China has also reported human cases of avian influenza H5N1. Since November 2003, the World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed more than 600 human cases of avian influenza A (H5N1) 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.
The WHO has not advised against travel to China or any other affected country. Current information on human health risks from avian influenza can be found on the WHO website.
Avian influenza amongst birds
Avian influenza 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. H7N9 has been identified in poultry in China. However there is no definitive information about the virus reservoir. For more information see the WHO website.
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;
- ensuring all uncooked poultry and eggs are handled hygienically with careful attention to hand washing after handling; and
- ensuring all poultry and eggs are cooked thoroughly before eating (proper cooking destroys the virus in poultry and eggs).
See a doctor promptly if you become sick with fever, coughing, or difficulty breathing during or after travel to China. There is some evidence that mammals such as pigs, 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 animal contact.
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.
There is no vaccine available to travellers to protect against avian influenza.
The Australian Department of Health 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.
Australians should familiarise themselves with the advice regarding personal protective and infection-control measures provided on the Australian Department of Health's Pandemic Influenza website.
Answers to frequently asked questions about avian influenza are available from the Australian Department of Health's avian influenza (H7N9) or avian influenza (H5N1) pages 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 continues to monitor avian influenza including for any implications for overseas travel.