health hands washing The number of confirmed H7N9 bird flu cases in China increased by five to 82 this week, and officials in Laos are being urged to maintain a heightened vigilance in case of any potential outbreak here.

The World Health Organisation and the Communicable Diseases Control Department of the Ministry of Health are encouraging the public to maintain cleanliness and animal hygiene to help prevent the virus emerging in Laos.

Shanghai has recorded 31 H7N9 cases to date, the most of any city in China, including 11 deaths, according to official Xinhua news agency figures. Some 40 percent of people who have contracted the virus have had no known contact with poultry.

Medical Epidemiologist of Emerging Diseases Surveillance and Response of the WHO, Dr Luo Dapeng, said it was essential for Laos to enhance surveillance, especially in regards to severe unexplained pneumonia clusters.

Protective measures people can take include washing their hands often, especially before, during, and after preparing food; before eating; after using the toilet; after handling animals or animal waste; and when their hands are dirty.

Hand hygiene in clinical settings is also paramount, to prevent transmission to other patients and healthcare workers, and everyone should cover their mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.

Poultry, poultry products (eggs) and pork can be safely consumed provided they are properly cooked and properly handled during food preparation

In environments where any highly pathogenic avian influenza virus may be present, hand hygiene, which includes hand washing and the use of alcohol-based hand rubs, is critical to prevent possible viral inoculation of the nose, mouth and conjunctiva by contaminated hands.

However, Dr Dapeng said there has been no evidence of human to human transmission among contacts of or between the confirmed cases. The risk associated with the A(H7N9) avian influenza virus to the general population in China and beyond is still being investigated.

Head of the Epidemiology Division at the National Animal Health Centre, Dr Khamphouth Inthavong, said epidemiologists throughout the country are being advised to raise awareness on bird flu prevention to make sure the virus can be kept at bay.

The Centre has advised epidemiological staff to closely monitor the local situation regarding the virus. This includes informing the public how they can prevent an outbreak or the spread of bird flu.

The public is advised to monitor the health of their birds, not to handle sick or dead poultry, and to report any suspicious cases to the authorities.

Dr Khamphouth also advised people who have come into contact with dead poultry and then become ill to consult a doctor to make sure they do not have the virus. In particular, people with a body temperature of over 38 degrees Celsius who suffer from coughing bouts and/or a sore throat should seek medical attention.

Staff need to remind households how to prevent the spread of the virus to make sure people don’t get infected while preparing chickens for meals. They should clean their hands with soap after handling poultry and all poultry meat should be thoroughly cooked before eating.

Source: Vientiane Times
By Xayxana Leukai
April 19, 2013