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Asia Bound? 5 Ways to Protect Yourself From Bird Flu

Asia Bound? 5 Ways to Protect Yourself From Bird Flu
Image credit: Shutterstock

The H7N9 virus, commonly known as the "Asian bird flu", has sparked concern among business travelers going to Asia. China has reported 87 cases of human infection and 17 deaths, since the outbreak was first announced by the World Health Organization earlier this month.

Human-to-human transmission of the virus has not yet been confirmed, but Karen Anderson, manager of Infection Control and Prevention at the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco says planning ahead can help prevent illness. Follow these six tips and stay safe in the air and on land.

1. Avoid touching your face.
All flu viruses are transmitted from hand to face. "You can get the flu if someone directly sneezes into your face, but it's much more likely [to be transmitted by] shaking hands with somebody or touching something that someone else has touched and then putting your hands into your eyes, nose or mouth," says Anderson.

Since you likely won't know if you have come in contact with an infected surface or person, keeping your hands away from your face can significantly reduce your risk of illness. You are most likely to touch your face when you're eating, so be sure to wash your hands thoroughly before and after.

Related: 6 Ways to Reduce Jet Lag Naturally

2. Practice good hand hygiene.
Wash your hands frequently and stock up on hand sanitizer and anti-viral wipes. While airline regulations restrict you to small, three ounce bottles in your carry-on, Anderson says that tiny bottle goes a long way. "[It] will last a 24-hour plane trip," she says. If you do run out, Anderson says washing your hands with soap and water is just as effective as anti-bacterial gel if done properly. She recommends scrubbing hands back and front for 15 seconds. "The friction removes viruses and bacteria," she says. 

3. Pack extra face masks.
While wearing a face mask if you’re sitting next to someone who is coughing is a good idea, Anderson recommends changing your mask frequently. "Masks are only good as long as they stay dry," she says. Moisture from your breath can render them ineffective. Once on the ground, be sure to carry a few face masks in your briefcase or purse to allow you to change them every couple of hours if you're in a crowded public place.

4. Learn to use chopsticks.
Anderson says we can learn a lot from the Chinese about good hygiene at business dinners. "[In Asia], chopsticks that you put in your mouth would never be put into a communal bowl," she says. If you're out at a business dinner, ask for a lesson in chopstick etiquette. "Picking things up with chopsticks [rather than fingers] means there isn't the same risk of sharing germs [with communal food]," says Anderson. Ensure all food is cooked and wash any fruits and vegetables from street vendors before eating. 

5. Eat in reputable restaurants.
News of the bird flu may have you weary of ordering poultry, but Anderson says heat destroys avian viruses. Although cooked poultry doesn't pose a health threat, ensure you're eating in a reputable restaurant with high health standards. Cross contamination from knives and surfaces that have been in contact with raw poultry can be a concern in cheaper restaurants.

Related: How to Avoid Cultural Missteps When Doing Business With Other Countries

Lisa Evans is a health and lifestyle freelance journalist from Toronto.

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