Saturday, January 14, 2006

News - Bird flu: 'no need to panic'

British holidaymakers were this week urged to continue travelling to Turkey despite fresh outbreaks of bird flu across the country.
Francesco Frangialli, the secretary-general of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation, said it was early to talk about a crisis in tourism in Turkey, or any other country, but gave warning that holidaymakers must be prepared for the virus to spread.
"Despite more cases of bird flu among people being reported, no transmission between humans has been detected. No tourists have been affected, and we believe the current situation does not warrant any form of restriction or other discouragement to travel to any destination," said Mr Frangialli.
The H5N1 strain of bird flu was this week detected in north, east and central areas of Turkey. So far, two people have died and a further 13 are in hospital. In total, 147 people have caught bird flu, of which 78 have died, since the virus first emerged in South-East Asia in 2003 and spread to China, Russia and Europe.
Turkey has been growing in popularity with British holidaymakers. It lies outside the euro zone and is cheaper than many other Mediterranean destinations. In January, the peak booking period for summer holidays, travel companies had already been reporting a growth in sales for Turkey.
Nick Wrightman, the managing director of Tapestry Holidays, which specialises in Turkish holidays, said: "We have sold 36 per cent of our programme for 2005, which is better than last year. But front-page stories about bird flu don't help the situation and, if it drags on, the easiest thing is for people to book holidays to other destinations. But we hope they don't do that."
A spokeswoman for the Turkish Tourism Board urged holidaymakers not to turn their back on the country. "The areas where humans have been affected are in the far east of Turkey and about 1,000 miles away from the tourist resorts in the west," she said.
Professor Colin Blakemore, the head of the Medical Research Council, has advised holidaymakers not to visit affected areas in Turkey. More than 300,000 birds have been culled in Turkey, and Juan Labroth, the health officer at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, has said that bird flu could spread to other parts of Europe. The virus has already been detected in fowl in the Aegean port city of Izmir, and in other birds at the resort of Kusadasi, near the Greek island of Samos.
The Foreign Office said that there was no need for people to cancel their holidays to Turkey. In its travel advice, it states: "The risk [from bird flu] is believed to be very low, provided you avoid visiting live animal markets, poultry farms and other places where you may come into close contact with domestic, caged or wild birds."
A spokesman for the Association of British Travel Agents also advised travellers to Turkey to avoid street markets but added: "Eating birds is not a problem, because cooking kills the virus."
Am I safe visiting regions hit by bird flu? And what precautions can I take?By Richard Dawood
Is it safe to travel to Turkey?
Yes, without hesitation. Travellers are not at increased risk. Unless you're likely to come into close contact with domestic poultry, the situation has not changed.
Avian flu is an infection of birds. Despite the massive number of birds affected across Asia, only a tiny number of humans have been infected, and these only as a result of direct contact with infected birds. To date, no tourists have been infected. The situation is certainly no worse than that in China, Indonesia, or the other countries in which avian flu has been reported. The resorts of southern Turkey and Istanbul are a world away from the remote, rural communities where close contact between humans and domestic birds is the norm.
Is it inevitable that bird flu will spread to other European countries?
Yes. Avian flu is a disease of migrating birds. The reports from Turkey are depressing, but not unexpected. They give a clear indication that we must prepare for further spread. Much more should be done to contain it.
What is the likelihood of there being a flu pandemic?
High - at some point during the next few months or years. The longer the outbreak continues among birds, the greater the opportunity for the avian flu virus to mutate into a form that could spread easily among humans, causing severe illness. With no prior immunity to protect any human population, a global epidemic, or pandemic, could follow.
Flu pandemics occur perhaps three or four times each century and it is thought that one is now "overdue". Pandemics usually take us by surprise. This is the first time in history that humans have ever been in a position to prepare for one.
What precautions should travellers take?
For now, the main precautions for anyone travelling to a country where avian flu has been reported are to avoid contact with live poultry and wild birds, steer clear of poultry farms and markets, and avoid contact with raw or undercooked poultry products. In other words, for the vast majority of travellers, business as normal.
The UK's National Travel Health Network and Centre advises travellers to report any illness with fever, cough or breathing difficulty that occurs within 14 days of returning home.
Although the vaccine against ordinary winter flu may not protect against the avian variety, it certainly does protect against the illness most likely to be confused with it.
Airlines have the right to refuse to carry any passenger with a fever, and during the SARS outbreak in 2003, many sufferers from flu found themselves in quarantine. So my personal tip, for anyone wanting to travel during the rest of the winter, would be to get a flu jab - there are plenty still around.

Telegraph Travel Bird flu: 'no need to panic'

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